France: Racist campaign against burqa
threatens democratic rightsSource: http://www.wsws.org/articles/2009/jul2009/burq-j14.shtml
By Antoine Lerougetel and Alex Lantier
14 July 2009
Conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy and
the French bourgeois left are jointly mounting
an anti-democratic campaign
to illegalize the minority of Muslim women
in France who wear body-covering clothes,
the burqa or the niqab.
In addition to setting a dangerous precedent
of banning personal religious conduct,
this measure aims to fan the flames of
anti-Muslim racism, dividing the working class
and promoting a fascistic political atmosphere in France.
In his June 22 speech to assembled parliamentarians
at the Palace of Versailles,
President Sarkozy declared,
"The burqa is not welcome on the territory of France."
Sarkozy was picking up an initiative
of André Gerin, a Communist Party
(PCF, France's Stalinist party)
deputy and mayor of the poor suburb of Vénissieux,
Gerin's petition for legislation banning
the wearing in public of the burqa
and the niqab has the support of deputies
from all the parties represented in the National Assembly.
Immediately after Sarkozy's speech,
a parliamentary mission to study the issue
was set up.
It started its deliberations July 8 and
is due to report at the end of December.
As the composition of the mission makes clear,
there is support throughout the French political
establishment for the victimization
of France's Muslims.
The mission comprises 32 deputies
: 1 PCF, 1 Green, 11 Socialist Party (PS),
17 UMP (the ruling conservative Union
for a Popular Movement), and 3 others.
The mission's reporter will be
UMP deputy Éric Raoult, and it will be led by Gerin.
Jean-François Copé, the leader of
the UMP parliamentary group in
the National Assembly,
set the tone.
He told the press July 8 that what
was needed was "a banning law
preceded by six months to a year
of dialogue and explanation."
He suggested that Muslim women's wearing
of the burqa or niqab was the sign
of a vast conspiracy: "The extremists
are trying to test the Republic.
" He insisted that the burqa poses "a problem
of security and public order and promised
that "anyway, the response will be strong."
He absurdly suggested that criminalising
personal conduct based on religious
opinion had nothing to do
with religious discrimination.
"The burqa is a political issue,"
he said, "not a religious one."
Broader media commentary has given
the lie to Copé's assertion that the aim
was not for state interference
into the freedom of religious opinion.
Reporting depositions at the first session
of the mission, held July 8, French news agency
AFP cited anthropologist Dounia Bouzar
: "Mme. Bouzar explained that the full veil
was imposed by the Salafists who say
they base themselves on the original Islam
and keep apart from the exterior world,
which is considered to be impure.
She spoke of 'sectarian behaviour.'"
Another significant factor in the anti-burqa campaign
is the growing anti-Muslim hatred in the French ruling
class as it expands its imperialist interventions
in the Muslim world.
France has sent troops to Afghanistan
to bolster the neo-colonialist US occupation there,
hypocritically presenting its intervention as
a defence of women's rights.
It also recently obtained military basing rights
in the Persian Gulf.
Thus UMP deputy Pierre Lellouche,
who specialises in military matters and
is France's special representative for Afghanistan
and Pakistan, said, "If I fight daily for the rights
of women in Afghanistan, you will understand that
I would wish that all women in France should have
the right to their bodies and their persons."
The Stalinist Gerin argued in the same vein in an interview
with conservative news magazine L'Express
on June 18.
He said the sight of women wearing the burqa or
the niqab "is already intolerable to us when
it comes from Iran, Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia....
It is totally unacceptable on the Republic's soil."
It is no accident that the media and the politicians
constantly refer to the "burqa," which is seen
extremely rarely in France, rather than the niqab,
which, though also very rare, is seen
somewhat more often.
The burqa, a single garment covering the whole
of a woman's body, with a grid for the eyes,
is worn in Afghanistan and conjures up
images of terror in that war-torn country.
The niqab, which also covers the whole body,
involves material covering the face,
leaving a slit for the eyes.
It is mostly connected with Arab countries
such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.
Though disguised under a hypocritical cover
of secularism and protecting women's rights,
the anti-burqa campaign is
a racist assault on basic individual liberties.
It is also particularly dangerous in that it sets
precedents whereby the state can
outlaw political or religious beliefs
it deems contrary to its interests.
No credence can be given to claims that
Muslim women's rights can be defended
by whipping up an anti-Muslim atmosphere
and forcing women to modify their beliefs
and conduct under the threat
of punishment by the state.
The attempt to justify this measure with appeals
to secularism (laïcité) is likewise both false
From a legal standpoint, laïcité is a principle
of conduct by the state,
holding that the state will adopt a neutral position
Singling out and persecuting an oppressed minority
like France's Muslims for
their personal conduct directly violates this principle.
The anti-burqa campaign also falsifies
the main political experience that led up
to the passage of the 1905 laïcité law
: the Dreyfus Affair.
Then, a coalition of socialists and intellectuals
gained mass support to overturn the victimization
by the Catholic Church, the army and
the state of a member of a persecuted
religious minority—Captain Alfred Dreyfus,
a Jewish officer falsely convicted
of spying for Germany.
Today, the most powerful elements of the state
are victimizing members of an impoverished
and oppressed minority,
while attempting to hide their racism
with a pseudo-secularist fig leaf.
Such a right-wing campaign is only made possible
by the collaboration of the Stalinist PCF—a
long-standing party of government
of the French bourgeoisie—and the so-called
Their support for the measure gives the lie
to the conventional belief that they somehow
represent the left.
In fact, after a political degeneration and a shift
in their social orientation and composition
that has spanned decades,
these parties now find themselves
in the camp of the political right.
Gerin's role is particularly significant in highlighting
the national chauvinism that runs rampant
inside the Stalinist PCF.
An admirer of Fidel Castro, he joined the PCF
in 1964 as a trade union activist and was elected
to the PCF central committee in 1979.
Elected as PCF town councillor in 1977,
he became mayor of Vénissieux in 1985 and
has been the National Assembly deputy since 1993.
Having attracted national attention for his enthusiastic
support of Sarkozy's 2005 repression of
the suburban youth riots,
his racist statements symbolize the alignment
of sections of the PCF on the neo-fascist politics
of the National Front.
In his 2005 book The Ghettos of the Republic,
published with a preface by Éric Raoult,
he wrote, "I am gradually becoming aware
of the problem.
It's a question of the differences in ways of life,
cultural differences between the Judeo-Christian
world and the Islamic world."
In an October 5, 2007, interview with
Riposte laïque (Secular Counterattack),
he attacked "problem families" and singled out
He said, "I've been asking the authorities for a year
: make these families leave for everyone's good,
and if they're foreigners,
don't hesitate to expel them.
In fact, I'm for strong, radical methods,
which will set an example."
In another interview, on December 7, 2007,
Gerin lamented the "mortal danger represented
by anti-white, anti-France racism."
The response of the so-called "far left" in France
has again demonstrated its inherent tendency
to adapt to the vilest initiatives of
France's political establishment.
Lutte Ouvrière (Workers' Struggle) issued
a denunciation of women wearing the burqa,
on the ludicrous grounds that they force others
to wear the burqa
: "To recognize the 'freedom' to wear the burqa,
would be to help to deny freedom to thousands
of others to reject the pressure which
pushed them to wear it."
LO added, "Religious freedom, which is
also invoked, cannot be accepted as an argument."
In short, from LO's standpoint, religious freedom
only applies to some—and it does not apply
to the most oppressed layers of the working class
among which most burqa-wearing Muslims are found.
The Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA,
New Anti-capitalist Party) of Olivier Besancenot
has maintained a deafening silence on this issue.
The party's Web site contains not one commentary
on the question of the burqa.
This is particularly significant in that they
are preparing an electoral alliance with
the PCF in next year's regional elections.
None of these parties has raised an obvious issue
: the implication of such a dangerous measure
for broader political freedoms in France.
If political or religious beliefs can be declared illegal
because they are deemed noxious to
the ideological bases of the French Republic,
the state is making a major step along the road towards
banning revolutionary proletarian politics and
preparing direct class repression.
Such concerns—automatic for any party seriously
concerned about the danger of its repression
by the state—do not occur to the PCF and
however, because these parties are thoroughly
integrated into the bourgeois establishment and the state.
The anti-burqa campaign is a stark warning
to the working class of the degeneration
of the French bourgeois establishment and
its petty-bourgeois satellites.
The campaign will supply endless media coverage
to divide workers along ethno-racist lines
and poison the atmosphere against Muslims,
precisely as economists predict deepening tensions
due to the economic crisis, with rising unemployment
and the arrival of a new graduating class on the job market.
Class-conscious workers must oppose the anti-burqa
campaign and break with all parties
that promote or sanction it.
By Antoine Lerougetel and Alex Lantier
Gsm: (250) (0) 78-847-0205 (Mtn Rwanda)
Gsm: (250) (0) 75-079-9819 (Rwandatel)
Home: (250) (0) 25-510-4140
P.O. Box 3867
Kigali - RWANDA
Skype ID: kayisa66