Where Some (American) Presidential Empathy Would Be Entirely Appropriate II
Monique has noted in the comments to a prior post that French President Nicolas Sarkozy has taken a definite stand on the matter of Lubna Hussein, the woman who may be sentenced to 40 lashes for the “crime” of wearing trousers in Sudan. AFP described described his reaction yesterday…
President Nicolas Sarkozy vowed Thursday that France would continue to support a “courageous” Sudanese woman who faces 40 lashes for wearing trousers.President Sarkozy is hardly a neutral observer on this issue. In late June, as reported by the BBC, he went as far as suggesting that his country might consider a ban on the public wearing of burkas, the traditional Islamic garb that covers a woman from head-to-toe…
“We will continue to work with her to help in her struggle which is the struggle of all women and which honours her,” he wrote, in a letter made public by his office.
Sarkozy spoke of his “emotion” and “deep concern” for the fate of Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein, whose trial on public indecency charges is “an intolerable attack on women’s rights”.
“We cannot accept to have in our country women who are prisoners behind netting, cut off from all social life, deprived of identity,” Mr Sarkozy told a special session of parliament in Versailles.I, for one, am not inclined to support this kind of extreme ban on what individuals are allowed to do in public. Government shouldn’t be in the business of telling people how to dress.
“That is not the idea that the French republic has of women’s dignity.
“The burka is not a sign of religion, it is a sign of subservience. It will not be welcome on the territory of the French republic,” the French president said….
A group of a cross-party lawmakers is already calling for a special inquiry into whether Muslim women who wear the burka is undermining French secularism, the BBC’s Emma Jane Kirby in Paris says.
President Barack Obama has expressed support for this general proposition, for instance during his response to a reporter’s question during a joint press appearance with President Sarkozy on June 6 of this year…
Q: President Obama, the ban on headscarves and veils for young girls in French schools and President Sarkozy’s position on Turkey’s entry into the European Union, is this likely to hinder the new approach to Islam that you presented in Cairo two days ago…Yet so far, President Obama has had nothing to say about Lubna Hussein, despite the fact that she is involved with a clear-cut case of government telling its citizens what to wear.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: … What I tried to do in Cairo was to open up a conversation both in Muslim communities, but also in non-Muslim communities; both in the Middle East, but also here in the West.
I will tell you that in the United States our basic attitude is, is that we’re not going to tell people what to wear. If, in their exercise of religion, they are impeding somebody else’s rights, that’s something that we would obviously be concerned about.
But my general view is, is that the most effective way to integrate people of all faiths is to not try to suppress their customs or traditions; rather to open up opportunities and give them a chance for full participation in the life of their country.
Why does Ms. Hussein’s situation not qualify for the “conversation” that President Obama desires to have? Why is a real situation involving authoritarian governments banning the wearing of pants a less worthy of discussion than is a possible situation of democratic governments banning the burka?