Dear Monsieur Sarkozy: I have never in my life wanted to wear a niqab or a burqa, but I do want to wear one now, thanks to you. Perhaps it’s something to do with being British, and doing the opposite of whatever the French want to do. I might even fashion my new niqab out of a Union Jack and ‘invade’ French soil via Eurostar, a cup of nice English breakfast tea and a traditional buttery scone with home-made jam. Or maybe it’s to do with the fact that I’m a woman, and no man is going to tell me what to wear, (except maybe Gok Wan) and no politician is going to determine how I dress.
That’s not your job, is it? Don’t you have other stuff to worry about – like the economic recession, climate change or unemployment levels? I know that you are worried about the reputation that French women have for beauty and glamour in the world, and you don’t want your lovelies to be covered up. However, since you are the global fashion capital, there are probably other more lucrative ways to solve the problem: perhaps a Chanel niqab, or a Louis Vuitton burqa with matching shoes and handbag?
You might think that change is bad, and moving France into the 21st century is a bad thing too – you know, with things like equality of rights and freedom. Oh, hold on. You guys are supposed to have that already aren’t you?
I understand your anxiety about giving women the right to make their own choices, and run their own lives, wear the clothes they want. It’s all a bit well, modern, isn’t it? And you can’t let Muslim women just get on with their lives exercising self-determination and autonomy, can you?
Actually, I’m wrong to say that you don’t like change – after all you altered the French constitution so that you could make the first ever presidential speech in the Palace of Versailles. Really pleased that you focused the historic occasion on women in veils. All 367 of them. You might want to take note of President Obama’s words – who’s a bit more popular than you: it’s up to Muslim women to decide what they wear.
So you’ve said that these poor women are oppressed and that the niqab is incompatible with French values. I imagine you and your mates must have been waiting for all those feminists and civil rights activists to stop banging on about the 40,000 French women who are violently abused by their partners every year, and the 1 in 3 that are raped. Did you explain to them that banning the burqa is a priority above all else, because it is about defending the values of the Republic. Banning will lead to freedom and equality. And fraternite is about brotherhood, so women don’t count anyway.
Your latest proposal to fine husbands whose wives wear the niqab or even send them to jail for a year, could prove very handy, merci beaucoup. Women who want to get rid of their pesky husbands just need to cover their visages, and ‘bam!’, off he goes out of her life for a bit of porridge.
So why do you dislike it so much when women cover their faces? Is it because you want to look at other people’s wives? After all, French presidents do have a reputation for a roving eye. Well, a bit more than just the eyes roving, eh? I noticed that you bonded with President Berlusconi over your shared interest in philanthropy philandering.
Seeing as you know exactly who these veiled women are, perhaps you could just ring them up and ask them nicely to stop wearing the niqab? You know, like a favour to the president.
Or if you want to be a little more classy in your request you could send each of them a personalised letter a la Queen (did you see how I used my ‘A’ Level French in that sentence? Impressed aren’t you). You could even use a similar tone to her letters to those who’ve reached 100 years old: “Thank you for your contribution and presence so far, but I think you may not be around for much longer.”
We should take a moment to be serious – although to be fair it is a bit hard to take you seriously when you feel scared of an itsy bitsy teeny weeny bit of cloth. When it comes to security, Muslim women are generally happy to comply with checks. If you are worried about integration then these women should be included, rather than excluded. And there is one point we agree on – there are indeed women who are forced to cover up through fear and convention. You’re not helping them, because you’re imprisoning them at home and reducing their engagement with the world around them – the world that you say will make their lives better. It’s a case of two men fighting to oppress women. Monsieur Sarkozy, your face should be red with shame.
Which brings me to my final point and what to do about your face – I think I have a good suggestion of what you can do with any unused stocks of niqabs and burqas. Just place the cloth over your face and tie the ends around the back of your head to cover your face and voila! The world will become a better place for everyone else. Come to think of it, you might need two of them. You are a politician after all,
Shelina Zahra Janmohamed, from behind my Union Jack niqab which I am wearing in temporary protest
Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is author of Love in a Headscarf, a humorous and irrevernt memoir of growing up as a Muslim woman. She also writes the Brass Crescent Award-winning blog Spirit 21.