Monday, July 21, 2008

Faiza Silmi

If you have read the New York Times recently, you will probably be familiar with Faiza Silmi. She is a 32 year old Moroccan woman who applied for French citizenship. She was denied because she wore a veil (not to be confused with the headscarf). When she appealed the decision, the French court upheld it and ruled that Faiza's radical practice of Islam was not compatible with French values such as secularism and equality of the sexes.

I personally find the institution of the veil extremely abhorrent. It is based on the misogynistic logic that women bear the guilt for exciting men's sexual desires and therefore must efface their bodies so that men can remain pious. It absolves men from the responsibility of controlling their gaze and desires and makes situations possible where a man can harass a woman and later with complete moral satisfaction say that she was asking for it because she did not wear the veil.

But Faiza's case makes me extremely uncomfortable. Denying Faiza citizenship on the basis of her religious beliefs is setting a dangerous precedent for religious discrimination. Her beliefs and practices may be repulsive to the French but they should not be grounds for rejection, especially in a secular country, where the state is supposed to be blind to the individual's religious beliefs.

Her case immediately made me think of Pakistan and how disastrous such a logic would be if applied here. Since I do not believe that men are more equal than women as ordained by the Quran (2:228, 282), I would become ineligible for Pakistani citizenship. Similarly, if someone disagreed with any Muslim belief or value, he or she could be denied Pakistani citizenship, too. 

To me this narrow-minded way of defining a country and its citizens' identities is extremely unsettling. In today's multicultural world where citizens of the same country are becoming more and more ethnically, linguistically, religiously and morally diverse, France's retrogressive ruling can only engender more intolerance.

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