I have been thinking about France's proposal to ban veils and burkas worn by Muslim women. I remember having a friend in one of my undergraduate classes a few years ago who was a Muslim woman. She was outspoken and very intelligent and she wore the most beautiful colored scarves and clothing. All but her face and hands were covered. I remember her telling me that some women cover up by force, others by religious choice or cultural devotion (or both, I suppose).
I thought of her when I read an LA Times editorial discussing France's "misguided plan to ban burkas," claiming it "would be a shame" for the French government to refuse to let women to wear their veils in public.
The article argued that "the latest effort to restrict the dress of Muslim women" is a way of increasing repression in an already strong effort to filter out religious extremism. What the editorial did not address is the idea that France has a right to draw a line defining where it sees religious freedom end and extremism begin.
If wearing a veil prevents the public and outside world from seeing any part of a person aside from a symbol of their extreme religious devotion and/or marital servitude, then why wouldn't France view it as a challenge to its republic, which has historically revolted against such behavior?
There is something in covering up the entire body for "religious purposes" that I believe many feel but few recognize or choose to admit. It's that it lends to the idea that those who might look upon my body in public are not worthy of doing so. It subtly implies that the world is evil and the purity of my body must be kept hidden, protected from that evil. We cover to protect and we protect because we are threatened by external elements. Even if this is not the intention, it is the message nonetheless.
Religious freedom is not the freedom to do whatever one chooses.
So, the problem lies in who should compromise, religion or society. In strict Muslim communities, female visitors are required to adhere to the dress code. Challenging that law would be considered an insult to the accepted way of life.
An eye for an eye.
Because I am not Muslim, or even religious, I remind myself to be cautious and thoughtful when I disagree with things I may not entirely understand. But an appropriate reaction to religious freedom, and even to extremism, is to have a certain level of tolerance and to expect the same in return.
Although I would hope that people would see things my way, if I walked naked down the streets of Los Angeles declaring that the laws of my religion were above those of my society, and that wearing clothing burdened my freedom, I doubt that LAPD would agree, and people might be offended.
Society calls for what I believe is a generally reasonable amount of adherence on issues concerning religious expression.
My conclusion? Find a nude beach.
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