French President Nicholas Sarkozy, aka the husband of Carla Bruni, recently proposed a ban on the burqa, a garment worn by Muslim women, saying that the garment reduced them to servitude and undermined their dignity. In a speech to the French Parliament, the first by a president since the 19th century, Mr. Sarkozy likened the burqa to a prison and said “That is not the idea that the French republic has of women’s dignity”. BBC
This radical and provocative proposal comes at a time when Europe is struggling to deal with new demographics and cultural diversity. This proposal has re-launched debates about how France, and Europe in general, would deal with the new cultural trends that large scale Muslim migration to Europe entails. France has previously banned sikh turbans and headscarves from schools. BBC
The key question here are the rights of immigrant women in the French state. The proposal is full of rhetoric about freedom and dignity of women in the face of what Mr. Sarkozy perceives to be an oppressive culture. Western feminists have pointed out the pitfalls that liberal attitudes towards immigrant culture entail for women, most famously Susanne Muller Okin in her essay ‘Is Multiculturalism bad for women?’-
It is by no means clear, then, from a feminist point of view, that minority group rights are “part of the solution.” They may well exacerbate the problem. In the case of a more patriarchal minority culture in the context of a less patriarchal majority culture, no argument can be made on the basis of self-respect or freedom that the female members of the culture have a clear interest in its preservation. Indeed, they may be much better off if the culture into which they were born were either to become extinct (so that its members would become integrated into the less sexist surrounding culture) or, preferably, to be encouraged to alter itself so as to reinforce the equality of women—at least to the degree to which this is upheld in the majority culture
Okin wants the state to intervne in the domestic sphere of immigrant lives, saying that opressive practices usually take place behind closed doors. While I do understand and relate with the Okins concern, I do think that there is a difference between choice and coercion. What I find unaccpetable is Sarkozy’s condescension when he assumes that everyone wearing the burqa is coerced into it.
This week two stories related to racist discrimination caught my eye. The first of these is from Dresden, not too far from a our beloved Leipzig, within a region that has been host to a spate of racist attacks.
It was while Marwa el-Sherbini was in the dock recalling how the accused had insulted her for wearing the hijab after she asked him to let her son sit on a swing last summer, that the very same man strode across the Dresden courtroom and plunged a knife into her 18 times.
Her three-year-old son Mustafa was forced to watch as his mother slumped to the courtroom floor.
Even her husband Elvi Ali Okaz could do nothing as the 28-year-old Russian stock controller who was being sued for insult and abuse took the life of his pregnant wife. As Okaz ran to save her, he too was brought down, shot by a police officer who mistook him for the attacker. He is now in intensive care in a Dresden hospital…
…Unemployed Alex W. from Perm in Russia was found guilty last November of insulting and abusing Sherbini, screaming “terrorist” and “Islamist whore” at her, during the Dresden park encounter. He was fined ¤780 but had appealed the verdict, which is why he and Sherbini appeared face to face in court again.
This story has led to widespread protests within immigrants in Germany, as well as in Egypt, the homeland of the deceased. What surprises me here is the fact that the assailant, with known anti-islamic sentiments, was able to bring a knife into the courtroom? Would it be the same if the case was against a Jewish person in Germany? And even more surprising is that the police mistook the husband for the assailant? Especially after the guy had stabbed her 18 times?
The other story was carried in the New York Times, which investigated the of Tanveer Ahmed, a 43 year old immigrant who died in detention, and whose death went unreported for 3 years.
By Mikhaila Alana Cupido
This essay won the first prize in the ‘World Beyond Stereotypes’ essay competition organized by Uni Leipzig
Pocahontas has always been one of my favourite stories as a kid, and at the ripe old age of twenty-three I realized how she must have felt when her ship boarded in England. When I arrived at the Leipzig Hauptbahnhof weary, very tired and already homesick I could’ve sworn that a million eyes watched me as I struggled to get my very heavy bag labeled with the South African flag out of the train. Then trying to guess which one of the millions of German woman standing around could be the one that I was looking for. To this day I am glad that a Coloured female South African along with an Afrikaner male South African conveniently sticks out in a crowd and we were found in no time.
I wish that I could say after having been here for so long that my daily dose of humour concerning where I come from has ended, but alas no. And on the upside it almost always makes my day, so I won’t complain. Here in Leipzig people often take the time to ask me completely random questions … but then again … as a student I have learnt that if you never ask, you might just never know. So I guess being asked random questions are a must, to keep in check what it is that German citizens or even Europeans think and know about Coloured South Africans.
In 2006 I very enthusiastically left my comfort zone to tackle a new continent and a new life. I come from Cape Town, and where I grew up everyone is Coloured and almost everyone talks like me, has my skin colour, and more importantly hair like mine. And then I arrived in Leipzig and not everyone knew this, much to my dismay.