One of my Facebook friends wrote something the other day about France enforcing secularism with this ban, or words to that effect. I think he confuses secularism with atheism. A secular society is one where religion doesn’t dictate political decisions – where the state and religion are separate – and where freedom of religion is possible, as no one religion dominates society. There are religious people who support the principle of secularism, recognising that it's the fairest system there is. Of course, hard-line atheists who are anti-religious don't like this idea; one told me he lived for the day when all religion would be gone. He'll have to live a very long time, possibly forever.
Nicolas Sarkozy is very unpopular - one poll puts his approval rating at about 29% - and the burqa ban seems to be a cynical ploy to win votes from the far right. Until now, few women have worn the burqa and niqab in France. It's possible that more will adopt it now, in gestures of defiance. Apart from security considerations, such as those that apply to motorcyclists who are asked to remove their helmets when it's necessary to identify them, it's an infringement of someone's human rights to legislate about what he or she may or may not wear in public. Yes, I know all the arguments about oppressed Muslim women being forced to wear the burqa, but the answer to this is education, not legislation.
Communist states have banned religion and its manifestations in the past, only for it to resurface from the underground when repressive sanctions have been lifted. I sometimes wonder whether those atheists who seem to imagine that religion can be forcibly eradicated or sneered into submission have any understanding of people in general. I'm inclined to agree with Baroness Mary Warnock, who, when interviewed by Laurie Taylor for New Humanist, said:
I find Dawkins’ simple-minded view of religion very difficult to take. It pays no proper attention to the history and tradition of religion. It says that religions have done nothing but harm but that is manifestly not true. He omits all the good things, the education, the cathedrals, the music. All that’s disregarded.There are many things about religion I find difficult to understand, like how intelligent people can believe so much nonsense, but as a secularist, I'm happy to live and let live, as long as they do the same. However, wearing the niqab and the burqa isn't just about religion; it's mainly a cultural thing. The monotheistic religions are inextricably linked to patriarchal politics, but would banning the burqa improve the lives of the women who wear it? Not necessarily. They have a variety of reasons for doing so; it would be a mistake to assume that they're all forced by male relatives. I doubt very much that Nicolas Sarkozy had women's interests at heart, and nor do the most vocal advocates of a British ban.