A French court has denied citizenship to a foreign woman because she wears a burqa and swears total submission to her husband.
The woman, identified only as Fazia M., is a 32-year-old Moroccan who has been living in France since 2000. She speaks French and has had three children, all of whom have acquired French citizenship.
Under the laws prevailing at the time of her citizenship application, a spouse had the right to acquire nationality provided he or she had been married for two years and had a good level of French. However, the authorities could reject the application on the grounds of “lack of integration” into French life.
Fazia M. was rejected on these grounds after she attended several interviews, dressed in the burqa, with the social services and police, which are normal steps in the process.
She and her husband volunteered the information that they were Salafists – members of an ultra-strict Saudi-inspired branch of Islam – and that the husband had asked her to wear the burqa and that she accepted “submission” to him, Le Monde reported.
Fazia M. appealed to the State Council, arguing that she had been denied the right to freedom of religious expression. The court rejected her suit, saying she had “adopted a radical practice of religion that is incompatible with the essential values of the French community, notably on the principle of equality of the sexes”.
“According to her own statements, Faiza M. leads a virtually reclusive life, cut off from French society,” explained Emmanuelle Prada-Bordenave, a government lawyer. “She has no idea about secularism or the right to vote. She lives in total submission to the men of her family.”
The Minister for Higher Education, Valerie Pecresse, saluted the State Council’s ruling, saying “the principle of sexual equality is not up for negotiation” in France. “Beyond the issue of wearing a burqa is the fact that this woman was not going to vote and … had no independent life other than trips that she made escorted by her husband. This isn’t the French Republic, I believe.”
Feminist associations applauded the ruling, as did the mainstream press. But commentators also said the affair revealed the huge disconnect between radical Muslims and French society and raised the question about what to do next, if it is accepted that the burqa is an instrument of oppression.
“The burqa constitutes an unacceptable violation of sexual equality, it is a headlong attack on the dignity of women, a complete step back to the Middle Ages,” said a leading rightwing MP, Jacques Myard, who said he would press for the garment to be outlawed in public.
Other voices, sensing both a legal minefield and a rallying point for disaffected Muslims, are against.
We spent three and a half months in the southern Spanish town of Vejer de la Fronterra. Women there wore the cobijada, a black gown which covered all but the eyes, until it was outlawed during the civil war in the late 1930s. That ruling had nothing to do with freeing women, it was made because men were disguising themselves in cobijadas and concealing weapons under them.
The French decision wasn’t about security, it was about women’s equality.
The husband was French and the court was not telling him he could not practise his religion; but it was saying that it was not going to condone the subservient position of women under that religion.
Some would say that freedom of religion includes the freedom to be subservient, but I don’t think you can make a free choice to be submissive. Rather than trampling over this couple’s freedom of religious expression, the Court has made a stand for the country’s values of equality and liberty.