Grab Your Parasol, ‘Cause it might Rain in Europe’s Banlieus

From Tunisienne Faculte Facebook page

“A burka?! You’re going to take that off for me right now!”

“Uh, by the way, you do know that you’re talking to an umbrella…”

The above bande dessinee was found shared on the Facebook page “Tunisienne Faculte,” which is actually a treasure trove of political cartoons and inspirational images if you check out their “wall photos” album. Although I am not sure whether the illustrator was French or Tunisian (or perhaps both), it pretty accurately sums up one viewpoint of the French towards Islam and, more specificially, the burka.

The man in the cartoon is shocked (and somewhat terrified, a mon avis) of the burka and want’s it removed immediately, which reflects France’s action against la voile integrale (the niqab, which covers all but the eyes, is also banned from public). The woman’s snide reaction–“Oh, the person under there is not a human being, it’s a beach umbrella”– is in effect dehumanizing women who wear full coverings. It shows how little the French care that women do choose to put these on-at least, in some places/cases-and that the veil is, for them, a symbol of their religion and faith, not something as silly as a parasol.

Whether or not your a fan of la voile integrale, France is wrong to ban it. The women aren’t walking around nude, for God’s sake-and I suspect that France would have less of a problem if there was a herd of women strolling around in their undies than their burkas. Although I am certainly not a fan of it, and understand that in some cases it can even pose a safety threat (how do you know who’s really under there?) the outrageousness of passing a “fashion law” seems a bit…..well, similar to the actions the Taliban took against Western fashion.

Europe’s queasiness concerning their expanding Muslim population was highlighted by Hishaam Aidi in an Al-Jazeera article (see below), which discusses the alienation of Muslims in their new homelands, particularly in France where they are often relegated to the banlieus. The U.S. government, apparently, is queasy about Europe’s cold shoulder towards their ‘new’ immigrants and has been trying to improve Muslim integration and participation in France and the U.K. The title of the article caught my eye for it hearkened back to the image of the U.S. as supreme “Big Stick” policeman: “Are Europe’s Muslims America’s Problem?” To answer: No, I don’t believe that they are America’s problem, but I do feel that they will be a very grande problem in Europe if these countries don’t open their hearts.

Put it this way: France, the U.K., Holland, Sweden and other European states have already opened their doors to Muslim immigrants. Now, they don’t like the results; but it’s too late to shut the door. It’s time for these governments to ‘open their hearts’ and find compassion and understanding for their new countrymen. If the United States can survive as a nation of immigrants, why can’t Europe be a mixed-bag, culture-wise, as well? The most recent edition of National Geographic describes France’s melting-pot port of Marseille as a place not only teeming with traditional Muslims, but also Moroccans, Algerians and Tunisians who go to the plage just like everyone else, strip down to their bathing suits and enjoy the sun. Clearly, not all of France’s Muslims are against integrating and enjoying traditional French pleasures, so why paint them all with the same brush?

Quite frankly, the “backlash” that Europe had to America’s “soft-power programs”-a.k.a. outreach programs run mostly by the American embassy and aimed at youth-is embarassing. The U.S. was just trying to help a bad situation which they recognized from experience: after going through the Civil Rights Movement in the 50s and 60s, it’s pretty easy for an American to see that what’s happening in the banlieus and slums of Britain is quite similar to the treatment of African Americans in the past.

To quote the author: “Sarkozy a few years ago threatened to clean up a cité with a Kärcher, a high-pressure hose.” Not only is this reminiscent of the fire hoses used on African Americans back in the 60s, it’s also a disgusting and cruel thing to say, as though the citizens of the projects were not citizens but garbage: used and broken invisible umbrellas. What did he think that would do? Did he think he could wash all the non-white French people away? Did he think he could cleanse them of their foreign attitudes, wash away the “dirt” of their religions and traditions?

The article mentions the fear of a “loss of cultural identity” as these newcomers hold fast to their traditions. But no one is telling the French to become Muslim, attend Friday prayer, slaughter a sheep: let everyone do what they want, I say. What makes us countrymen is not if we both share the same love of baguettes or pita, wine or the a la menthe, lamb or ham: what makes people countrymen is their shared values, the love of inalienable rights such as the ability to choose to do whatever you want, even if that means donning your own personal parasol to go to the beach.



1.   Are Europe’s Muslims America’s problem? By Hisaam Aidi, 26 Jan 2012.

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