In sharp contrast to our president, France's Nicholas Sarkozy has called for banning the Islamic full body burqa in public.
"In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity," Sarkozy said to extended applause in a speech at the Chateau of Versailles southwest of Paris.
"The burqa is not a religious sign, it's a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement—I want to say it solemnly," he said. "It will not be welcome on the territory of the French Republic."
The French parliament has responded to Sarkozy's remarks by commissioning a commission to come up with a plan to implement the ban for France's 5 million Muslims.
Sarkozy understands, (as our president apparently either does not or doesn't want to ) that the head-to-toe burqa and even the hijab are frequently not a matter of choice but are enforced. In heavily Muslim areas in Europe, many non-Muslim women are forced to don Islamic gear to avoid being harassed and raped.
In Saudi Arabia, there was the well known case recently where the mutawadeen ( religious police) kept a number of young girls from escaping a burning school to the street because they weren't wearing burqas. I doubt that they made a 'choice' to burn to death.
Burqas are also a security risk since the wearer's face is hidden. And the enforcement of burqa wearing contributes to the sense of Islamist separatism, the idea that Muslims are part of the umma first and citizens of the country second.
I fully support the idea of freedom of choice in this area. Should some Muslims find this and other aspects of sharia that don't mesh with the West essential to their spiritual well-being, there are certainly plenty of other places in the world like Saudi Arabia where the Islamist 7th Century dream is alive and well.
I would certainly urge them to honor their principles and vote with their feet.