campaign against burqa threatens democratic rights

France: Racist campaign against burqa

threatens democratic rights

Source: 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,

near Lyon.

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

and reactionary.

From a legal standpoint, laïcité is a principle

of conduct by the state,

holding that the state will adopt a neutral position

towards religion.

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

"far left."

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

immigrant families.

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

in France,

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

"far left,"

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.

Source: http://www.wsws.org/articles/2009/jul2009/burq-j14.shtml

By Antoine Lerougetel and Alex Lantier

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