France, Immigration, and Security: Are New Policies Likely to Curb Violence.... or Increase It?

France, Immigration, and Security: Are New Policies Likely to Curb Violence.... or Increase It?

Yesterday I asked a friend of mine what he thought of the "burkini ban" recently instituted in France, and supported by politicians and people across the country. He tends to hold fairly conservative views on such topics, and he answered, as I was perhaps expecting, with a hesitant: "Well...  I think it might not be a bad idea".

When I asked why, he argued that in a secular country, religion should not be forced upon individuals. He brought up the Pledge of Allegiance ban, which outlawed the citing of the pledge in public schools, because the phrase "Under God" goes against the separation of Church and State.

Is it fair to label the hijab as a "display of religious affiliation"?

I understand what he's getting at.... but I feel like the same idea doesn't really apply here. A woman wearing Hijab is making an expression of faith... but the act of wearing a hijab is, almost 100% of the time, not for the purpose of religious display. A woman who chooses to wear hijab does so out of personal beliefs, as an act of modesty. There is no inherent desire or intent, I said, to display religion, and much less to "push" religion upon others. 

It's so different, for example, from banning individuals from carrying signs or religious symbols in public. For a hijabi woman, banning her headscarf from a public place is banning that person from the public space, because the hijab is inseparable from her individual identity. Personally, I do know a few hijabi women who in certain situations, will decide to remove their veil in public (for example, one friend of mine chooses to remove her headscarf when she travels through airports, to avoid harassment). But for the majority of hijabis, the idea of removing a headscarf to visit the beach goes completely against the efforts for modesty that lead them to don the hijab in the first place. 

Why does hijab make people so uncomfortable... and whose 'responsibility' is it to ease these tensions?

My friend's views reminded me of a conversation I had with my French host family earlier this summer, in the middle of Ramadan. 

I was going on 15 hours of fasting that day, when my host-mother relayed the news that there had been another terrorist attack - a man had murdered several two police officers with a knife. I was feeling incredibly sad, overwhelmed, confused, and scared. I was waiting for the conversation to turn to me, and almost dreading what I knew was coming. 

Let me preface by saying - this was an incredibly 'liberal' family, by self-definition. Extremely well-educated, highly professional, and very cosmopolitan. Now, the mother turns to me, and starts talking about a whole string of things, finally landing on the issue of hijabi women in France. 

"It just makes me incredibly uncomfortable", she said. "It makes me uncomfortable to see that display of oppression, as a woman. I don't believe women should be allowed to wear hijab in France. It just goes against our entire culture, our values, and our beliefs."

But... what are those beliefs, exactly? A belief in individual expression? A belief in acceptance and tolerance? A belief that a woman should be the only person that dictates what she does or does not do with her body....? 

From everyone I've talked with who has been against women covering themselves with headscarves in public, I've never gotten a better answer than this. I've never gotten a more concrete reason why this should be mandated, other than: "it makes me feel uncomfortable. This is not part of our culture".

Now, back to this week, in the US. My friend is making the same argument: that women wearing headscarves is an ostentatious demonstration of a refusal to 'integrate' into society, and an unwelcome display of foreign ideology and values. 

I say this: "But this is a part of who these people are. You are choosing to assume that these women do not make the choice to cover themselves - likely, this is not the case. These individuals are making a decision based on their personal attitudes toward modesty, but some people have a difficult time accepting this.

"The argument by French politicians to ban the 'burkini' is based on the fact that they believe, because France has been such a target of Muslim-extremist violence, that non-Muslim citizens who see covered women in public may get angry or incendiary. But instead of asking how we help to increase understanding among these people, you are targeting the hijabi women and asking them to change their behavior, or remove themselves.

"How is this different", I say, "from a Black man in America whose life may be in danger, if he walks into an area where he may be targeted for the color of his skin? Instead of asking White supremacists to educate themselves or refrain from committing violence, do you instead ask the Black man to either change his skin, or refrain from entering Mississippi?"

Forget "good" or "bad"... is the law actually effective at what it is trying to do?

Here, the conversation took a turn. My friend said I was being "too dramatic", and that the situation was very different. He said Western governments have done an incredible amount in accepting refugees from across the world, and helping individuals start new lives and a chance to live in peace and prosperity. 

I couldn't argue with him here, because I 100% agree. I do think Western governments have done this, and I do feel thankful for it: a feeling I know many immigrants across North America and Europe share. Moreover, I do not believe that countries like France, Germany, or the US have any obligation or responsibility to open their countries to immigrants or refugees. 

Here's my thing:

If you want to open your country to immigration, that is fine. If you do not, just as well. It is completely your prerogative. If you want to accept immigrants from other European countries but exclude others from the rest of the world, that is completely fine. That is 100% a decision that a country's government and it's people are 100% entitled to make. 


If your concern is that you have become a target of international and domestic violence carried out by extremists who use religion as a recruiting tool to mobilize disenfranchised and disillusioned individuals around the world..... 

.... is a response like the 'burkini ban' really the correct solution?

Extremism thrives on disunity, disenfranchisement, and division.

Imagine this:

You are a young boy. One day, you're laughing and playing with your family on the beach. Suddenly, a police officer approaches you, weapon in hand, and begins to converse with your mother. 

You stand there, confused. 

As your mother and the officer talk, a considerable crowd has gathered around you. You understand that the officer is ordering you and your mother to leave. People who were previously no one to you, are now staring at you. Some are shouting; it sounds like they are calling you names. Some look scared, others angry. 

You watch as your mother is handcuffed, and you are forced to leave the beach. 

Later, you understand that the reason this happened is because your mother was wearing a hijab. 

Now, instead, imagine this: you are a young boy. One day, you go to the beach with your family. You have a great time. Afterwards, you get ice cream, before heading home. The end.

Nothing else considered, let's imagine one final thing. It's ten years later. The boy is now a teenager. He is watching a news piece on TV: "Muslim terrorists claim bombing, call for destruction of Western culture". There is a clip of a man asking Muslims worldwide to stand together in the face of Western persecution, urging individuals to join him in the fight against countries that seek to oppress and abuse them.

Which of these two boys, after hearing this speech, is more likely to be stirred to feel the resentment these words were meant to inspire? The one who has found success, love, and acceptance in his society? Or the one who has reason to believe that the hateful rhetoric he is being fed by violent extremists is true?

- A


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