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Posted in: Islamic Gender & Religious Apartheid

Published on Jun 22, 2009 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for Pajamas Media

Sarkozy vs Obama on The Burqa


As far as I'm concerned, Frenchmen are back in vogue. Who could ever have predicted that the French president would stand up for women's universal rights and for freedom as a universal right — while the American president would hang back, wait, temporize? It's almost as if we've elected a Frenchman president of the United States — and an American-style president is ruling France.

Please contrast the following two speeches.

On June 22th, 2009, President Nicholas Sarkozy stated that he viewed the full-body burqa and niquab as a sign of the "debasement" of women and that it won't be welcome in France. According to the glorious Sarkozy:

"In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity … The burqa is not a religious sign, it's a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement — I want to say it solemnly, it will not be welcome on the territory of the French Republic."

France has Europe's largest Muslim population, an estimated 5 million people. Many are hostile to the western enterprise, but some are in the vocal forefront of the fight for women's and human rights. In 2004, France passed a law "banning the Islamic headscarf and other conspicuous religious symbols from public schools, sparking fierce debate at home and abroad."

Now, contrast Sarkozy's words with what President Obama said in Cairo on June 4th, 2009.

"Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one's religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state of our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That is why the U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish those who would deny it.

So let there be no doubt: Islam is a part of America. And I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations — to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God. These things we share. This is the hope of all humanity."

This is why I described Obama's Cairo speech as "throwing Muslim women under the bus." Obama is literally signaling to the Muslim world that they will be able to create a parallel universe in the land of the free and the home of the brave — and will be able to continue to use our laws to do so.

(I know, I know, Obama also threw Israel under the bus — and yet, some say, that his speech was also calculated, careful, respectful — a give-peace-a-chance kind of speech to an audience that has continually called for "death to America." )

Now, contrast how the two Presidents recently discussed the police and state riots in the streets of Iran.

On June 16, 2009, according to the AP, President Sarkozy denounced the Iranian government's "brutal" reaction to "demonstrators protesting the nation's disputed election. Sarkozy calls the situation in Iran "extremely alarming" and says Iran's clampdown on demonstrators was "totally disproportionate." Sarkozy also said: "The ruling power claims to have won the elections … if that were true, we must ask why they find it necessary to imprison their opponents and repress them with such violence."

On that same date, June 16th, according to the Wall Street Journal here's what President Obama had to say. He "voiced concern about how the election had been conducted, although he fell short of denouncing the vote. What Obama himself actually said was this: "It is up to Iranians to make decisions about who Iran's leaders will be. We respect Iranian sovereignty and want to avoid the United States being the issue inside of Iran." Obama then went on to say that "the world is watching" and to describe the demonstrators as "inspiring, regardless of what the ultimate outcome of the election was."

On June 19th, CBS News quoted President Obama again. This time he said: "The last thing that I want to do is to have the United States be a foil for — those forces inside Iran who would love nothing better than to make this an argument about the United States. That's what they do. That's what we have already seen. We shouldn't be playing into that … now what we can do is bear witness and say to the world that the incredible demonstrations that we've seen is a testimony to — I think what Dr. King called the — arc of the moral universe. It is long but it bends towards justice."

I am not entirely sure what this means but I wonder if this is what Attorney General Robert Kennedy and President John F. Kennedy said to Dr. King or to James Meredith's supporters in the 1960s when they were beaten, murdered, and imprisoned in southern jails? In 1962, our government sent 13,500 federal troops to Oxford, Mississippi to quell racist rioting there. True: This all happened on sovereign American soil. But isn't President Obama a citizen of the world, a universalist, someone who prides himself on his knowledge that we all live in a global community?

'Tis true: America has a long history of meddling in foreign affairs, and we have supported corrupt tyrants in the service of the stable, status quo. President Obama, for all his calls for "hope and change" is following traditional American policy. N'est ce-pas? (Isn't that so?). Allow me to clarify: I am not calling for boots on the ground, for an expansion of the war that America is already waging in Afghanistan and Iraq. I am merely calling for more principled, more "inspiring" words on behalf of freedom and women's rights from our very eloquent American President, our Master Wordsmith. At least that.

And, I am calling for one law for women in America. I hope President Obama supports this view.

As for my part: I have already begun to remember my love of French literature, cheese, wine, cooking, perfume, fashion, and art. Ever since Chirac coddled Arafat, and De Gaulle opened the French borders to Muslim immigration (in return for hoped-for oil markets) , I have rarely indulged these guilty pleasures. Now — Viva La France!


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