By a vote of 246 to 1 the French Senate voted Tuesday to excise the word's liberté, égalité, and fraternité from the country's soul. With the vote to ban the wearing of burqas in public, France took a step back into the Dark Ages. Furthermore, the country revealed a deep seated insecurity about the strength of its culture… while at the same time weakening that culture by reinforcing intolerance.
It is estimated that fewer than 2,000 Muslim women in France would be affected by this law. This only underscores the degree of fear driving French lawmakers. Do they really believe these 1,900 or so women can actually undermine thousands of years of national culture or threaten France's national identity? If so, the problem isn't burqas. It's paranoia. Or it's a sense that French culture is soufflé -- so fragile it will fall at the sound of the first whisper.
Combine this with the French government's recent treatment of Romas and you have a pattern of behavior that echoes many of the darkest motifs in European history. Forcing my father to wear a yellow star on the streets of Vienna when he was a boy is the flip side of this coin. Protecting social "purity" by identifying an ethnic minority or by denying that minority -- in this case members of France's second largest religious group -- the right of self-expression is the same appalling thing. (For this reason I would encourage every Jew or Jewish group to stand alongside Muslim leaders opposed to these actions, but I fear it would only further coalesce the supporters of the ban.)
If there is a place for intolerance in civilized society it must be limited to intolerance of intolerance itself. President Nicolas Sarkozy and the people of France should indeed be on their guard. There is a dire threat to France within their midsts, but it does not wear a burqa.
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