Neil Clark on Sarkozy and his willingness to put the Burqa at the center of the French political debate:
The secret of Sarkozy's success is that he knows how to spot a vote
winner. While the left sought to focus on the underlying causes of the
riots which plagued Paris in the autumn of 2005, Sarkozy, as Minister
of the Interior, simply sent in the riot police and denounced the
rioters as racaille or 'rabble'.
Faced with the impact of the global recession, he ditched his flirtation with Anglo-Saxon capitalism and adopted more traditional dirigiste Gaullist policies - in the process completely wrong-footing the left.
Now it seems he's played another trump card by announcing on Monday the establishment of a commission to consider banning the wearing in public of the burka - the garment worn by some Muslim women which covers the entire body, including the face.
His argument for doing so is not just that the burka represents an assault on French secularism, but that it is degrading to women. By championing the rights of women, Sarkozy is able to pose as the defender of the founding principles of the Republic. He also gains kudos for dealing with a hyper-sensitive political issue head-on. And here's the really clever part: he manages at the same time to expose divisions on the left.
This debate about the Burqa frustrates me because it is clear that it isn't about the burqa, but about something else, about identity politics, defining/redefining what it means to be French and what/who cannot become French. I don't mind having such a debate, but it isn't cheap to confine it to the interdiction of the Burqa of French society when the issue is about finding the balance between liberty and religion, all religions not just Islam for after all, if as Sarkozy asserts the Burqa is about foreign traditions and cultures, then what is the problem? Can women wear the Burqa if they assert that they do it just because they like it, just as they would wear fur or a thong?