The French Republic is not blessed or burdened with a First Amendment. So when President Nicolas Sarkozy recently suggested that France ban the wearing of the burqa in all public places, the Chamber of Deputies took it up.
Unlike the headscarf, which covers a woman's hair but leaves her face visible, the burqa is a head-to-toe covering that makes walking draperies of women. Some, like the chador worn in Afghanistan, feature a mesh covering for the face. The Saudi version usually sports a slit for the eyes. Here's an online catalogue's description of one: "Khimar and niqab set made of an all season, buttery soft georgette. Reaches to approximately knee level (depending upon your height) and provides full coverage. Arm openings about half-way down the khimar are a convenient feature with this style. Edges are embellished with matching satin trim. Imported from Saudi Arabia. Available in your choice of Navy Blue, Brown, or Saudi Black." Yes "Saudi black." In a country where summertime temperatures often reach 120 Fahrenheit, the geniuses designed a garment for women that is stifling and black.
In London, which has come to resemble Algiers more than New York, these walking shadows are everywhere. Even in summer, some women who wear the "Saudi black" burqa also wear black gloves and sunglasses over their facemasks. One would no more strike up a conversation with such a specter than with Darth Vader.
You needn't approve of the slatternly attire so often found on Western women to stoutly and angrily resist the encroachment of the burqa -- and everything it represents -- into Western life. Let's be clear. It took guts for Sarkozy to say what did. He called the burqa "a sign of subjugation ... of debasement." Al-Qaida, reliably enough, issued a fulminating statement: "We will not tolerate such provocations and injustices, and we will take our revenge from France ... by every means and wherever we can reach them."