Nothing screams progress like telling a woman what she can and can't wear.
In their valiant strides toward enlightened secularism, the French have already banned full-face veils everywhere; headscarves in public schools, welfare offices and government facilities; and now, are finally considering banning them in the private sector as well. This, after a ruling that a private school couldn't fire a woman due to her headscarf, received wide public backlash.
While some outside France will only see such bans as odd, intolerant or racist, those within understand the historic struggle better.
It is little known that this particular issue is what sparked the French Revolution. In fact, the original principles of the revolution were Liberty from that which covers the hair, Equality for all non-scarf, turban and kippah wearers, and Fraternity amongst those willing to expose shoulders in public.
If France truly wants to be a leader in this, it must take the next steps to do what all us liberals have been fighting for. Few things are more offensive to a democracy than not being able to see a woman's highlights or her buttocks outlined in jeans, but it must be mentioned that another archaic and distasteful symbol remains intact.
France must too ban the expression "God bless you."
It is permissible to begin with the humble civil service but eventually it should hope to reach the classroom and workspace as well. Suppose, after all, that one Christian makes the heretofore mentioned utterance to another, but an agnostic sits in the adjacent cubicle. What is she to do in such a scenario? The lack of legislation leaves her few options. She must sit in silence and accept that such an expression has been uttered within her hearing range.
It is clear though why visual expressions of religion were the first tackled, and on this France can hardly be criticized. It is for the women that they fight the big fight.
French politicians have long been encouraging women -- including in the legislature, egging them on with catcalls so they can be confident that if they stumble or misspeak it will matter little, indeed, will little be heard, over the distraction of the attractive female form.
One politician has been quoted as saying "We will not stop until every woman can be hissed at with reasonable cause." Modest dress, it goes without saying, would make a hissing man look silly.
Besides which, there is the public safety to consider. Everybody knows that the headscarf acts as a 'gateway drug' to far more severe threats. Prayer, fasting, even mosque-going. Mosque-going!
To paraphrase a Leonard Cohen song: "First we take the headscarves, then we take 'God bless you!'"