France is now poised to enact legislation making it illegal to wear the burqa (full body covering) and the niqab (face veil). And a growing number of European countries have already passed or are well on the way to passing similar legislation.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is promoting such a ban in his country, says bluntly: "The burqa has no place in France."
Yet, while the anti-burqa frenzy sweeps Europe, the targets of these measures seem virtually invisible. It is estimated that a couple of hundred women in Belgium wear a full veil. In France, one study estimated that there are 1,900 burqa wearers in a Muslim population of five million.
European public policy makers are using the idea of an enforced dress code as a piece of social engineering, trying to hasten the assimilation of Muslims into the general population. Those opposed to this policy contend that assimilation doesn't happen this way. The result of the ban, they say, will not make them more European; it will only make Europe less free.
With that background, I was interested to learn what my (largely American) readers thought about this issue. So, to a largish but handpicked list (attempting some kind of balance), I emailed the following question:
"France is about to pass a law banning the wearing of the burqa (full body covering) and the niqab (face veil). Proponents of this measure claim the legislation strikes a blow for women's freedom by allowing them to cast off garb they have been forced to wear against their will. Others say women who want to wear these items will now have no choice.