A French court’s decision last month not to grant French citizenship to a burqa-clad Muslim woman provided a ray of hope to those willing to stand up for western values and oppose Islamization of their societies. But you would never know it according to the New York Times.
While the media focus was on the head-to-toe, body-encompassing robe that leaves only a slit for the eyes, the part of the ruling stating the Moroccan citizen had adopted as her religious practice a very dangerous strain of Islamic fundamentalism was mostly ignored. Previously, citizenship had been denied to those involved with Islamic fundamentalist groups rather than to those who practiced their beliefs.
After her marriage to a man possessing French citizenship, Faiza Silmi, 32, moved to France in 2000 from her native Morocco. There, the North African woman bore three children and donned the burqa for the first time at her husband’s behest. In 2005, Silmi applied for French citizenship, but a lower French court rejected her application on the grounds she showed a “lack of assimilation.”
In her June appeal, France’s highest administrative court, the Conseil d’Etat, heard that, regarding her citizenship application, Silmi showed up to three interviews with a government commissioner clad from head to foot in a burqa. According to the commissioner, the Moroccan woman said she led a sequestered existence, removed from French society, and had no concept about secularism or the right to vote.
It was noted, however, that Silmi spoke good French and had visited a male gynaecologist when pregnant. But the commissioner’s report went on to say the woman had adopted a radical form of her religion and lived in complete subservience to her husband and male relatives, which she found “normal.
“The very idea of contesting this submissiveness does not even occur to her,” read the report.
In a rare moment of agreement, the French political left and right approved the court’s ruling. Most saw it as a victory for women’s rights, since the burqa is viewed as a symbol of Muslim male oppression of females, directly contradicting a fundamental value of French society: equality of the sexes.
Moderate French Muslims also endorsed the ruling. Fadela Amara, the Secretary of State for Urban Policies and former president of the Ni Putes Ni Soumises (Neither Sluts Nor Submissives), a French feminist organization that fights against gang rapes, the hijab and underage marriages, called the burqa “a prison, a strait-jacket.
“It is not a religious insignia but the insignia of a totalitarian political project that promotes inequality between the sexes and is totally lacking in democracy,” Amara told a French newspaper.
As part of this “totalitarian political project”, the wearing of the burqa, head scarf and veil has long been regarded as the probing attack of militant Islam against western societies. Secular Turks and moderate Turkish Muslims perhaps understand best the importance and connection of Muslim female clothing with Islamic fundamentalism and its use as a weapon against secular society. Several months ago, 140,000 such moderates took to Turkey’s streets to protest the planned lifting of the ban against the head scarf at universities. Besides the social pressure women would face to wear the scarf, they feared the new measure would constitute an important step in their society’s Islamization.
But the political significance and provocation the burqa represents seems to have escaped the New York Times, which portrayed Silmi sympathetically last week. In the Times account, the Moroccan woman said her decision to wear the burqa was simply a private one and her reported submissiveness to her husband was not true, citing the fact she has her own car and does her own shopping as proof. And when the Muslim lifted her veil, her face was warmly described as “smiling” and “heart-shaped.”
The female journalist also quoted a French Muslim leader, who took the line of those opposing the administrative court’s verdict, saying a “dangerous precedent” had been set. Religion should be kept out of such decisions, he maintained, since it is personal. The court’s ruling violated Silmi’s constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of religion without elaborating her branch of Islam wants to destroy the constitution.
“What is it going to be tomorrow?” he somewhat misleadingly told the Times. “The annual pilgrimage to Mecca? The daily prayer?”
But most disingenuous about the Times story was how the Muslim couple’s radical Islamic fundamentalism was depicted. The French newspaper Le Monde, which broke the story July 12, quoted the commissioner’s report as stating the couple “spontaneously”, admitted to their being Salafists. Salafism is an ultra-radical branch of Islam that wants to dominate the world and is willing, like al-Qaeda whose ideology it shares, to kill millions of innocents to achieve this goal.
Neither the Le Monde quote nor any independent definition of Salafism appeared in the Times story. Instead, now recognizing being known as a Salafist was not good, Silmi’s husband was allowed to backtrack, saying he neither liked the title nor believed in violence. Admitting he lived by a strict, literal interpretation of the Koran, the husband was also not asked whether he believed in jihad or in replacing French democracy with sharia law.
No mention was also made of the problem of Salafism in France. It is the branch of Islam that, according to one French expert, is attracting an “overrepresentation” of converts and young women. At least six French Salafists, some of Algerian background, were also known to have gone to the Gaza Strip last February to fight Israel. The Salafists’ leader in Gaza, Abu Mustafa, has made no bones about his group’s violent extremism when he said: “Compared to us, Hamas is Islamism lite.”
Silmi’s husband told the Times he is now considering moving his family to Morocco or Saudi Arabia, since he is having trouble finding work in France due to his beard. And while his Salafist beliefs despise democratic rights, the French are probably very happy he intends to exercise this one: his right to leave.