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The UFI Poll question for the week yielded what we thought was a rather surprising response from our readers.  This question is one that strikes at the heart of religious expression and thus religious freedom.

“Do you support or oppose France’s recent ban on the wearing of a burqa?” (Burqa:  outerwear that covers the entire body worn by some Muslim women.)

Support                                87 percent

Oppose                                  13 percent

Can’t decide                        0 percent

Polls say most French voters support the ban on the burqa, a term generically used for the niqab – which covers the face, but leaves the eyes open – as well as the traditional burqa, or all-enveloping garment with a mesh.The legislation forbids face-covering Muslim veils in all public places in France and calls for a euro150 ($185) fine or the taking of a citizenship class, or both.

In 2004, France banned the wearing of the headscarf (hijab) and the display of any overt religious symbols in schools.  We are told that includes the wearing of a collar by a Catholic priest and the traditional clothing worn by nuns. Although in France, the wearing of the headscarf and other religious symbols are, for now, allowed in public areas (outside of schools) that is not, however,  the case in the country of Turkey.   See what can result as a country aggressively pushes towards “secularism” at the cost of religious expression.

The Soft-Blue Scarf—Symbol of Oppression

“Women’s rights will never be fully realized until we end the suffocating influence of religion.”  Or try this:  “Secularization is the answer to the oppression of women.”   Versions of those lines are regularly repeated at the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women.

Rabeea * doesn’t believe it, however.   She tentatively walked towards us as we sat on the bench outside a large UN conference room—a room where delegates from her native country of Turkey had just reported to the General Assembly on the stellar progress of Turkey in giving equal rights to women.  Her long gray sweater was wrapped tightly around her thin body and her beautiful face was framed by a soft-blue scarf—a soft-blue scarf, the only outward symbol of her inner devotion to God.  Her intelligent eyes shone brightly as she politely asked if I had a few minutes.

Her voice waivered just a little as she began her practiced speech.  “I come here to represent the Muslim women of my country who cannot speak for themselves, the women of my country who cannot go to school, cannot get a job, cannot hold a public office; the women of my country who cannot have any semblance of a normal life.  Why can they not have any of these things?  Because of this,” and her hand reached up and brushed the edge of her soft-blue scarf.  She continued “I was one of the lucky ones who was able to leave my country, get educated, have a life, but two-thirds of the women are not so fortunate.  They must choose between devotion to their religion or a normal life in Turkey.”

She explained that in 1997 the government of Turkey, in an effort to secularize and “modernize” the country, banned the wearing of headscarves in public.  You cannot go to school if you wear a headscarf, employers cannot legally give you a job if you wear a headscarf.  Read more

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