Category Archives: Burqa Ban

Au revoir, Reunion Island (made in France)

Believe it or not, this is my final week in the South Seas.

In just a few days I’ll be beginning the long journey home to the US, figuratively and literally speaking.  Although rather than taking what is officially the world’s longest “domestic” commercial flight between Reunion and Paris (more than twice the distance between New York and LA), I’ll be making stopovers on neighboring Mauritius Island, Johannesburg, and Abu Dhabi before arriving in Chicago.  My brother is totally jealous because I’m going to be having dinner in Johannesburg at a place called “Carnivore” where every kind of meat you can imagine comes served to your table on a Massai spear on an all you can eat basis until you literally raise a white flag in the middle of your table in defeat. Seven months of bananas and mangos and I’m ready for some red meat.

Before I leave though, allow me to bring you up to date one last time on some of the latest Reunion banter I hear about in the teacher’s lounge.

The Prime Minister of Mauritius recently made some strong remarks about the people of Reunion, including accusations that Reunion could not exist were it not for the assistance of others.  It’s a fact.  The most expensive highway in France runs along the west coast of Reunion.  Roughly 30% of Reunion’s labor force is unemployed, living on generous social benefits from the metropole.   Generally speaking, Reunion produces very little in exchange for all that it consumes from the French Republic.  Yet coming from the Prime Minister of Reunion’s sole sister island (soul sister island? that too), it struck some serious nerves.

The local paper included the following quote from the PM’s speech: “Sarkozy a demandé aux Réunionnais pourquoi ils n’agissent pas comme les Mauriciens. Pourquoi doit-il à chaque fois verser de grosses sommes d’argent pour les Réunionnais.” (Sarkozy has asked the people of Reunion why they won’t behave like Mauritians.  Why does he have to dump great amounts of money on the people of Reunion all the time?)

Mauritius, on the other hand, has had to pull itself up by its own bootstraps since it became independent from the United Kingdom in 1968 and has done well at it.  Let’s just say they’re proud of the fact and not afraid to point out the distinctly “made in France” approach of their neighbors.

Moreover, the island of Mayotte is now officially the 101st département of France, reigniting a heated regional conflict with the Union of the Comoros, which still claims the island with UN backing.  How Mayotte, with its strongly Islamic culture, will coexist with the recent anti-Niqab legislation applicable on all French soil, is beyond me.

In any event, the French have been in the Indian Ocean for centuries.  In a few days, there will be one less American.  It has been a wild and exciting experience living here, and I hope to find truth in the Malagasy proverb that I will not attempt to transliterate but instead paraphrase that “the world is round, and as such, if you leave a place, you’re bound to come back full circle at some point.”

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Le voile intégral à la Réunion en question

The debate surrounding a public ban on the “burqa” continues to intensify as the date approaches when the law will go into effect in France and its overseas departments.  Reunion is home to a sizable Muslim minority, consisting not only of recent immigrants from other islands in the Indian Ocean region where Islam is more widely practiced, but also of families who have lived as French citizens on Reunion for generations who, along with the Tamils, Malagasy, Chinese, and other East Africans, contribute to the unique patrimonial métissage for which the Reunionese are so proud.

Mainland France, on the other hand, is experiencing a frightening wave of xenophobia as it’s population becomes less homogenous, due in large part to immigrant flows from Africa, the Maghreb, and eastern Europe.  An educational campaign launched by the French government entitled “The Republic without a covered face” and featuring a stoic and ethnocentric depiction of French Marianne as its cover girl will accompany the Burqa Ban in April.

The law is expected to directly affect the lives of approximately 250 Reunionese women who regularly wear the full veil in public and will demand as retribution either a 150 Euro fine ($200) or participation in community service seminars for each offence, beginning in July of this year.

Sorry to the non-Francophones who will have difficulty understanding this news segment, but listening to the tones of the speakers voices is compelling enough.

Original text article can be found here.

Some revealing (troubling?) comments from online readers:  (my own translations…)

“Fuck off and let these people wear what they want.  I don’t see what the matter is.  And stop telling us we’re French, its infuriating.  This word “French” is just on paper.  Open your eyes; we don’t have the same benefits as those in mainland France.  We’re Reunionese.  Just something to think about.  You’ve been warned.”

“Its time to stop saying that we all live in harmony in Reunion already, since in terms of community [diversity], each group sticks together.  Next, we are on French soil and the law is equally applicable here in Reunion, which is above all, a French territory.  It’s exasperating to see that integration only goes in one direction, meaning that when we step foot in any Arab country [we have to assimilate to local customs and practices regarding appearance] but not the other way around.  So, PLEASE, stop pontificating and may our dear politicians shed [our society’s] so-called “woven fabric” so that this law might be as effective as any other.  You’ve been warned, my dear compatriots.”

“Of course, the Law must apply to everyone in the same fashion.  La Reunion is French, just like Mayotte.  Moreover the Mahorais (residents of Mayotte) voted to remain a French department, along with all the obligations which it entails, first being to respect French law.  Its also astonishing to see the energy generated over 250 veiled women in Reunion!  And lastly, who will pay for these community service seminars?  Those who aren’t wearing the veil, of course!  Adaptation, yes, but laxity, no.”

“This woman is a perfect example of [someone] lacking reflection.  First of all she is incapable of discussing a subject without making reference to God.  We have the freedom of religion, but the majority of us also have the capacity to speak and reflect on a subject without having to systematically resort to the word of God.  She is incapable of understanding the faults in her logic.  I’m not judging the Islamic culture, but you have to acknowledge that certain precepts are astounding and make women endure masculine domination.  Lastly, it’s not my problem, but in my store, you won’t come in with a face hidden behind a veil, or else you stay at home!!!!!”

“On particular airlines flying between Paris and the Arab world, flight attendants dress normally at takeoff from Pars.  Then when the plane returns to its country of origin, they put on their veils.  Even though they might not all be Muslims, they respect the customs, religion, whatever… but also they respect our law when they arrive in France.”

“Apply the law to the letter.  Wearing a veil is a provocative gesture to our secular Republic and its inhabitants.  It’s an ostentatious symbol of belonging to a group and a form of resistance.  There’s nothing special [about the Muslims] here than in any big urban area in mainland France, like Marseille, Lille or the crown of Paris.  We’ve been talking about the veil for years in France.  There’s no element of surprise here, like normal, we dare to apply the law.  With exceptions?  No.  A true specialty of France, that “we wouldn’t dare” threaten a segment of the voters.  When you get off the plane in certain Islamic countries, no one gives you a “transition period” to put on your veil or not.  Obligation is immediate.  250 women in Reunion?  I doubt this number is correct.  Concerning Muslim policemen, they are under oath to serve the nation and not a religion, and in the proper execution of their work, they serve the secular Republic.”

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What do Islam and Barbies have in common?

Not long ago, the French government passed a law banning the burqa in public settings in order to maintain the state’s commitment to complete secularism.  France and many other countries in Western Europe have considerable Muslim minorities from North Africa and the Middle East, and immigration is changing the face of Europe in the same way it is in the US and elsewhere.  In Reunion, however, minorities are the majority.  Here there are mosques next to churches next to temples next to voodoo huts next to whatever you can imagine.  And they’re very proud of their long history of integration and cohabitation.  (There’s a wall covered in graffiti explaining this that I need to take a picture of.)

The reason I bring up the burqa ban is that I witnessed a bus driver deny a young girl permission to get on his bus until she agreed to lift the niqab and hijab covering her face and hair.  That was shocking.  I’d seen many women wearing the burqa since arriving here (although clearly not as many as in Yemen, where ironically women are “free” to wear them in public) and I am curious to see how the recent law from the capital 5,000 miles away will affect the Muslim population on Reunion.

Meanwhile, the 12-year old son of the teacher I’m staying with, Tanguy, is searching frantically under the furniture in the living room for a lost earring belonging to one of his many Barbies.  I’m not sure what the kid is thinking, but he really likes his Barbies.  Last night we watched TV with three of them sitting next to us on the couch, in perfect upright posture, hands resting delicately on their crossed legs and everything.  He says he wants to become an activist for the rights of Barbie’s when he grows up, because he believes that its unfair that they can think but they cant move, that they can carry bags and purses but can’t access their contents because they’re solid plastic and don’t open, and that their eyes are always pointed blankly in front of them and you can never really tell where they’re looking.  Maybe as he grows older his budding interest in activism will lead him to take on real challenges and issues facing real women in the real world.

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Filed under Burqa Ban, Hmmm that's odd, postcolonialism