I try to stay neutral. I love France, but it is not my country. I am here to learn another culture and perspective, not to impose my own.
And so I try not to have a vocal opinion about the issue of the veil. There’s been a lot of recent press about a French woman who was fined for driving with a Niqab, a veil that covers the entire face except for the eyes.
Its not the cost of the ticket, which is 22 euros. Nor is it about road visibility, as visibility through the veil is comparable to visibility through a motorcycle helmet. Instead, the real debate is the issue of the veil itself.
You see, when you come to America, you bring your culture. America is not so much a melting pot, but a big stew with chunks of cultures absorbing each others flavors. Individual identity is promoted, and can be retained along with becoming American. When people ask me of my European cultural background, I do not believe they are accusing me of being “un-American.” I can be both.
In France, this is not (as much) the case. When you immigrate to France, you become French. By becoming French choose to accept French cultures as the way of life. The French census omits the question of race or ethnicity (resin from WWII era when there was a dossier of French Jews), it doesn’t really matter what race you are or where you originally come from, if you have French citizenship, you are French.
This same theory is applied to the permitence of religious symbols in schools. France gets a lot of press about banning headscarves in schools, but little is mentioned about how all religious symbols are banned. I have a friend who wears a Jewish star around her neck, but when she attends courses at her university she wears a scarf around her neck to cover the religious symbol. Headscarves are a symbol of religion, and so have been banned in public institutions.
As an American, I had trouble understanding this concept. In America a ban of headscarves would be seen as a violation of civil liberties. Every person is an individual and allowed his/her individual rights. There is a separation of Church/State because I do not have the right to impose my religious beliefs on others.
In France, there is a separation between Church/State because they are different entities. Schools are a part of the State, where the Church has no domain. People are allowed their own individual beliefs outside of the public institution.
But where does the line of individuality end and the State begin? Is it in the car? Or is it in public? One thing’s for certain, its a tenuous issue, and I plan to keep my mouth shut until further notice.