- By David RothkopfDavid Rothkopf is CEO and Editor of the FP Group. His latest book, National Insecurity: American Leadership in an Age of Fear was published in October.
By a vote of 246 to 1 the French Senate voted Tuesday to excise the word’s liberté, égalité, and fraternité from the country’s soul. With the vote to ban the wearing of burqas in public, France took a step back into the Dark Ages. Furthermore, the country revealed a deep seated insecurity about the strength of its culture… while at the same time weakening that culture by reinforcing intolerance.
It is estimated that fewer than 2,000 Muslim women in France would be affected by this law. This only underscores the degree of fear driving French lawmakers. Do they really believe these 1,900 or so women can actually undermine thousands of years of national culture or threaten France’s national identity? If so, the problem isn’t burqas. It’s paranoia. Or it’s a sense that French culture is soufflé — so fragile it will fall at the sound of the first whisper.
Combine this with the French government’s recent treatment of Romas and you have a pattern of behavior that echoes many of the darkest motifs in European history. Forcing my father to wear a yellow star on the streets of Vienna when he was a boy is the flip side of this coin. Protecting social "purity" by identifying an ethnic minority or by denying that minority — in this case members of France’s second largest religious group — the right of self-expression is the same appalling thing. (For this reason I would encourage every Jew or Jewish group to stand alongside Muslim leaders opposed to these actions, but I fear it would only further coalesce the supporters of the ban.)
If there is a place for intolerance in civilized society it must be limited to intolerance of intolerance itself. President Nicolas Sarkozy and the people of France should indeed be on their guard. There is a dire threat to France within their midsts, but it does not wear a burqa.
Blake Hounshell is managing editor at Foreign Policy, having formerly been Web editor. Hounshell oversees ForeignPolicy.com and has commissioned and edited numerous cover stories for the print magazine, including National Magazine Award finalist "Why Do They Hate Us?" by Mona Eltahawy. He also edits The Cable, FP's first foray into daily original reporting, and was editor of Colum Lynch's Turtle Bay, which in 2011 won a National Magazine award for best reporting in a digital format.
Blake joined Foreign Policy in 2006 after living in Cairo, where he studied Arabic, missed his Steelers finally win one for the thumb, and worked for the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies. Blake was a 2011 finalist for the Livingston Awards prize for young journalists for his reporting on the Arab uprisings, and his Twitter feed was named one of Time magazine's "140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2011." Under his leadership, in 2008, Passport, FP's flagship blog, won Media Industry Newsletter's "Best of the Web" award in the blog category. Along with Elizabeth Dickinson, he edited Southern Tiger: Chile's Fight for a Democratic and Prosperous Future, the memoirs of former Chilean president Ricardo Lagos, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2012.
A graduate of Yale University, Blake speaks mangled Arabic and French, is an avid runner, and lives in Washington with his wife, musician Sandy Choi, and their toddler, David. Follow him on Twitter @blakehounshell.| Passport |