August 7, 2009

Where Some (American) Presidential Empathy Would Be Entirely Appropriate II

Carroll Andrew Morse

Monique has noted in the comments to a prior post that French President Nicolas Sarkozy has taken a definite stand on the matter of Lubna Hussein, the woman who may be sentenced to 40 lashes for the "crime" of wearing trousers in Sudan. AFP described described his reaction yesterday…

President Nicolas Sarkozy vowed Thursday that France would continue to support a "courageous" Sudanese woman who faces 40 lashes for wearing trousers.

"We will continue to work with her to help in her struggle which is the struggle of all women and which honours her," he wrote, in a letter made public by his office.

Sarkozy spoke of his "emotion" and "deep concern" for the fate of Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein, whose trial on public indecency charges is "an intolerable attack on women's rights".

President Sarkozy is hardly a neutral observer on this issue. In late June, as reported by the BBC, he went as far as suggesting that his country might consider a ban on the public wearing of burkas, the traditional Islamic garb that covers a woman from head-to-toe...
"We cannot accept to have in our country women who are prisoners behind netting, cut off from all social life, deprived of identity," Mr Sarkozy told a special session of parliament in Versailles.

"That is not the idea that the French republic has of women's dignity.

"The burka is not a sign of religion, it is a sign of subservience. It will not be welcome on the territory of the French republic," the French president said….

A group of a cross-party lawmakers is already calling for a special inquiry into whether Muslim women who wear the burka is undermining French secularism, the BBC's Emma Jane Kirby in Paris says.

I, for one, am not inclined to support this kind of extreme ban on what individuals are allowed to do in public. Government shouldn't be in the business of telling people how to dress.

President Barack Obama has expressed support for this general proposition, for instance during his response to a reporter's question during a joint press appearance with President Sarkozy on June 6 of this year…

Q: President Obama, the ban on headscarves and veils for young girls in French schools and President Sarkozy’s position on Turkey’s entry into the European Union, is this likely to hinder the new approach to Islam that you presented in Cairo two days ago…

PRESIDENT OBAMA: … What I tried to do in Cairo was to open up a conversation both in Muslim communities, but also in non-Muslim communities; both in the Middle East, but also here in the West.

I will tell you that in the United States our basic attitude is, is that we’re not going to tell people what to wear. If, in their exercise of religion, they are impeding somebody else’s rights, that’s something that we would obviously be concerned about.

But my general view is, is that the most effective way to integrate people of all faiths is to not try to suppress their customs or traditions; rather to open up opportunities and give them a chance for full participation in the life of their country.

Yet so far, President Obama has had nothing to say about Lubna Hussein, despite the fact that she is involved with a clear-cut case of government telling its citizens what to wear.

Why does Ms. Hussein's situation not qualify for the "conversation" that President Obama desires to have? Why is a real situation involving authoritarian governments banning the wearing of pants a less worthy of discussion than is a possible situation of democratic governments banning the burka?

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Because the Burka is a generalized discussion of French policy touching on freedom of religion and expression.

The Lubna discussion is about one woman wearing pants, in the Sudan of all places.

Surely you don't expect our president to weigh in on every single instance of third-world injustice, do you?

Posted by: Marty at August 7, 2009 5:40 PM

The folks at Anchor Rising were quick to respond to the the FOOD FIGHT between
pro and anti gay rights folks, where no one was injured.
Two days later a conservative gun-nut
opened fire in a gay youth center in Israel killing 2 and injuring 11

Justin ?

Posted by: Quigley at August 7, 2009 6:08 PM


A pants-ban in the Sudan is just as much about free expression and about religion -- Lubna Hussein believes she can be practice her faith without having to dress a certain way in public -- as is a burka ban in France. If one woman in France chooses to defy a future burka ban, I’d wager it will quickly become at least as big a world news story as is Ms. Hussein’s situation.

If the President hadn’t already injected himself into the subject of Islamic fashion in the name of wanting to start a conversation, there’d be a viable case for his not reacting. But he and his supporters can’t take a strong stand on one side of the burka issue, declare that conflicting viewpoints are driven by "hostility towards religion", and then completely ignore an example that shows the merits of a legitimately different viewpoint -- and then still expect his idea of a "conversation" to be taken seriously.

At the moment, President Obama seems happy with a very one-sided conversation. But watching how the health care debate is developing, maybe we shouldn’t expect much more.

Posted by: Andrew at August 7, 2009 11:15 PM


I’m opposed to mass murder. I think laws against mass murder (and also single murders) in Israel, in the United States and in all other countries are a good thing.

See how things move forward, when the response to a question is an answer, instead of shouts of “you have no standing to ask that!!”.

Now let’s relate things back to the subject of the original post. Do you think that laws requiring women to wear burkas in public are a good thing?

I am sincerely sorry if my writing a blog post in the form of a question to the President has fried your brain.

Posted by: Andrew at August 7, 2009 11:16 PM
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