In June of this year, Faiza Silmi was denied French citizenship because of her choice to wear the niqab – a facial covering worn by some Muslim women. French officials cited her lack of “sufficient assimilation” into French society. They elaborated that they viewed her niqab to be a “straightjacket”, “prison”, and a symbol of her willingness to be oppressed by the men in her family.
So far, the New York Times reports, citizenship had only been denied to those Muslims who had close ties with fundamentalist groups. Ms. Silmi does not have such ties – this decision was based on her choice of garment alone.
It seems that Ms. Silmi leads a pretty standard life as far as that of a Western housewife is concerned: caring for her children (all born in France – her husband being a French citizen himself), shopping for their necessities, driving to run errands, etc. She does all of these in mainstream French society. Nonetheless, officials viewed her niqab as prohibitive to her full integration.
When it comes to the niqab within a democracy or open society, I have only one question myself – I am not sure that it is possible to navigate societies functioning on identifiability – from driver’s licenses to banking – without permitting your face to be seen. (Note – I said I am not sure. I’d be interested to hear what niqabis have to say about their experiences with this). In any event, it isn’t made clear that Ms. Silmi has encountered troubles in the public sphere. All that is clear is that the French officials deciding her case determined that she is oppressed.
As a twisted sidenote, officials apparently approved of one thing in evaluating her case: that she had seen male gynecologists during her pregnancies. Are they seriously using that as a mark of feminist liberation these days? What is this, the year 1700?
Perhaps what the French could have noted is that Ms. Silmi actually felt freer to wear her niqab in France than she did in her home country of Morocco. In France, religious freedom in one’s personal life is protected by law. Not so in many Islamic countries – where religious expression must often look exactly the same across the board.
The burden falls on the French government, then, to make the case as to why Ms. Silmi has not assimilated. She chooses to wear the niqab not to work as a judge or a public official. She chooses to wear it in her personal life – as French law would seem to permit.
What are your thoughts?
P.S. I dig this commentary.