11A104 Banning Burkas by Jim Davies, 4/16/2011    

The French government has outlawed the wearing of niqabs, those black garments that conceal all but the eyes of ladies from the interested gaze of gentlemen. It's a popular law, because a lot of French people dislike the presence among them of large numbers of immigrants with their strange ways, and want either to prevent them coming or at least to make them adapt to French ways. On Thursday a Telegraph article called for a similar ban in the UK, so I suppose it's only a matter of time before the call goes up for one here too.

No surprise that this should have begun in France. There's a long tradition of xenophbia there; les Anglo-Saxons are tolerated in some quarters, for example, only reluctantly. The English are distrusted because of centuries of hostility and especially since Waterloo, Germans may still be expectorated as les Boches, and Americans are detested because they kindly rescued France from an enemy they could not handle alone. Twice! In one half century! Sacré Dieu. And now, the Colonial era being over, Muslims are flocking to the mother country from her former colonies and of course as refugees from the many hot spots a mere day's train ride away. So under Sarkozy Romanys have been shipped East, and Muslims are being told to scrap some of their mediaeval clothing. Girls should understand that in France, they are expected to present themselves for full and frank evaluation by the male of the species. Guys want to have a look, it's a macho thing.

So is it a good idea to conceal skin? - absent government, clearly the answer is to be determined exclusively by the owner of the skin. "Government" as usual includes religious rulers, who are laying down law for Muslim ladies, and would love to enforce that law if they had control of the State's police apparatus; the more theocratic the state (Saudi Arabia, Iran) the more they can do that, the more secular (France) the harder it is. But then the secular government steps in and enforces the opposite standard, as nicely captured in Matt's cartoon of a topless beach on the Côte d'Azur.

So a pox on both their houses, religious and secular. As said in the splendid 60s slogan (where did it go?) "Keep your laws off my body!"

But how, one might ask, would it work out in a zero government society, with everyone deciding how to get dressed or not dressed? Would society become one enormous nudist camp?

If it does, so be it; that's freedom. As a prediction, though, I rather doubt it - especially in winter. Even in high summer, I reckon most folk will choose to wear a certain amount of covering, if only to leave something to the imagination; it's part of the subtlety of relations between the sexes. Added to that is the - er - ugly fact that with the passage of time, bodies tend to become less attractive and therefore more worth concealing. Then there's the matter of standards of normalcy and business courtesy. If one wishes to do business, it's a good idea to show respect to the other party and that includes presenting oneself smartly, being polite etc. You go for a job interview, you get shaved or trim your beard, and probably wear a tie. Those standards vary with time; when I was interviewing for my first job the shirt had to be white, the collar, starched and the tie and suit, sober. So, of course, did the applicant.

French folk, and all others among whom Muslims now move, have an unprecedented opportunity to welcome them to standards of freedom and rationality they have never known. It would be tragic if government got in the way.

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