Yesterday, two burqa clad women were arrested in Paris, in front of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Why? NOT for flouting the newly passed French law that specifically forbids the wearing of full-body, face-covering clothing. What, are you jumping to conclusions? No, they were stopped short for holding a political demonstration without a permit. Without such regulation life in the Capital might well be a chaos of all demos and militant marches all the time. Demonstrating ‘wild’ is a serious offense.
I’ve been asked how I feel about the veil ban, as a woman living in France. Having listened to views and positions and personal stories, I will go out on a limb. I support it whole-heartedly. The legal scaffolding may be a bit odd, slung as it is between the 1905 law of laicity, and practical worries of public safety. But what is the present human reality? There are perhaps 2,000 women in this country who wear the full get-up. Some may be scandalized by the forced change. However, one doubts very much that many women here in France have been happy with their covered lot. Most had no choice; they were and are under the absolute authority of the men who control them. (The new decree levees extra penalty on men who impose the burqa on minors.) By the by, neither niqab nor burqa is a floaty fashion accessory, it is a complicated multi-layered cloth prison, difficult to live, see and move in. The greatest hardship is that it is an unimaginably isolating place of exile. Outside, no one can see your expression. You are a cipher at best. Ugly and even scary to people on the street, in shops. Not even your own children can see you smile.
This isn’t about religion. Millions of women around the world lead lives as faithful Muslims, content to show their faces.
A less uproar-producing sign of the upsurge in Radical Sanity in France is– the return of draft horses to public service! In a handful of towns, most recently Hazebrouck, the noble but disappearing French breeds like the Trait du Nord are being buckled back into harness. They pull a new, high-tech, light weight generation of garbage trucks that represent a serious investment by big companies such as Veolia. Energy cost, environmental impact and the town budget are all significantly improved. Apparently neighboring towns are considering climbing on the bandwagon, so to speak.
The bouquinistes on the quais open their treasure boxes and bloom into their element in springtime. Because Spring is when a Parisian’s thoughts turn to… finding an old cheap paperback by Malraux or San-Antonio, and settling in on park bench. When the sun is very low, the bouquinistes’ peeling green wooden stalls, locked up at night, lie quiet in the shadow of the Parthenon, where the anointed writers (including the dead) of the Academie Francaise hang out, without apologizing for their self-appointed status as the ‘Immortels’. Yesterday a woman was elected to chair Number 30, Daniele Sallenave. She lost some years back at her first try, perhaps because of a book supporting the cause of the Palestinians in the Middle East.
Plus ca change. Bring on the hard-working horses, feathered fetlocks and all!