Students Discuss French Ban On Full Veils

Niqab no longer, France proposed on Monday April 11, 2011. An open discussion, co-hosted by Women’s Forum and the Muslim Student Union, invited students to voice their opinions on the controversial banning of the niqab, full veil, in France that has sparked debates about religious freedom on April 26. The niqab and the burka are face-covering garments, one covers the entire body and the other covers the head respectively, while the hijab is a scarf worn around the hair and face. France formally passed a policy prohibiting the attire of full veils in public, causing an outcry in Muslim communities who consider wearing the niqab a sacred duty. Women who do not abide by the new Fench law can be fined up to 30,000 Euros and imprisoned for up to a year. Members of the forum discussed their thoughts on the policy. Some felt the French government thought it was liberating oppressed Muslim women and treating them as equals in the country. The group also discussed how the French government could have passed the act for security reasons. In light of several suicide bombings where explosives, the full body veil could create security issues when authorities are unable to see the face of the wearer. Other members felt the full body veil brought a sense of empowerment to many women. They thought not tolerating such religious expression would alienate the Muslim community. Moreover, they believed eliminating the veil may not actually address the core problem of resentment towards Muslims, “Islamophobia.” Nikita Lamba ’11 said, “It’s a very, very, very relevant issue to the society that we live in right now. Especially in terms of Islamophobia and I think that we don’t examine this enough.” Tia Baheri ’12, Head of Women’s Forum, said, “We tried to present both sides of the argument… we really wanted people to see both perspectives…On one hand, wearing a burka for some women can be really oppressive because they’re being forced to wear it. But on the other hand, it can be completely liberating.” Fatima Liaqat ’12, Head of Muslim Student Association (MSA), said, “This ban is not getting at the problem that Muslims face in France. It’s not getting at discrimination, it’s not getting at why Muslims feel so isolated, why an immigrant may not feel so ‘French’ sometimes. People suggested that the French government try to help immigrants integrate with the society instead of trying to change the immigrant. This ban only creates more tension and I really hope the French government comes up with a better solution, not just the obvious one.” Attendees tied the concept to life at Andover, citing recent discussions on gender roles. Baheri said, “I feel like we don’t talk about [gender] enough. We are especially cautious when we’re talking about our own campus and I think we hold back a lot more when we are examining ourselves. We are very liberal. For example, saying ‘Yale is sexist.’ But we are very cautious to say that we have these problems.” Nikita Lamba ’11 said, “It’s a very, very, very relevant issue to the society that we live in right now. Especially in terms of Islamophobia and I think that we don’t examine this enough.” Tasifa Khan ’14 said, “I wear a hijab myself and I felt that a ban like this in a country… so close to the US has the potential to affect us and affect me as well.” “The PA community is made up of youth from every quarter so there are many Muslim students here and I am a veil wearing student. I feel that showing people that there are countries that don’t have that freedom can influence people to be more accepting now and when they get older,” said Khan. The discussion at Phillips Academy was organized by Liqat and Baheri. Liaqat initially suggested the topic and invited Women’s Forum to join in on the discussion. The leaders of both clubs hoped that the meeting would facilitate more discussion and understanding of gender and race issues in the Phillips Academy community as well as on a global level. Liaqat said, “I think what we achieved today was that people really looked at [the issue] from all angles, and then later decided that this policy was not the way to go.”