Beauty of the veil

Beauté du voile, beauté du diable © PP

          The question of the veil, which is carrying with it in the greatest intellectual confusion many other questions such as Islam, immigration, Islamism and even terrorism, erupts periodically and almost compulsively in the political debate in France, a fortiori during a campaign for the presidential election.

These outbursts of fever generally give rise to an escalation in the name of a secularism often misunderstood, narrow and sometimes fundamentalist. If the issue is not specific to France, we can think that its evocation is probably also indicative of an older trauma, repressed, associated both with suffering and that exerted on others during decolonization.

The discussion on veil can consist of unproductive, confusing and frustrating exchanges, but it can also take us further into thinking about sensitive, important and unavoidable issues. It is not a question of asserting expertise but simply of inciting  nuance and moderation.


Let us say it clearly, when the veil – which takes various forms up to the burka – is a manifestation of the segregation of women and their submission, it is a problem in our European societies. In particular, they must ensure that young girls do not suffer in their education, especially in school and in their sports activities. All the rest, which is a matter of tradition, of an expression of identity, or even of fashion, and does not correspond to an alienation in the sense of separation, is tolerable and requires finesse and tact in the application of the rules.

The veil is often an expression of identity, in a world where societies and individuals are lacking of benchmarks, as well as a sign of religious faith. France has experienced multiple manifestations of identity in the past decades. Let’s take only the example of regionalist movements of Brittany, Corsica or Occitania in a country at the same time hyper-centralized and perceived as being on the road to standardization linked to an exponential modernization. Let us remember the drift, in this case very serious, of some young Armenians of the third generation from the mid-1970s to the 1980s.

The identity reflex is not only a sign of too rapid modernization, it can also occur in societies where it is difficult to achieve and where all models have failed, that of immediate decolonization, then of socialism of Soviet inspiration, finally an embryonic and too unequal capitalism. Has this not been the fertile ground for what has been called the “Arab Spring”?

Stigmatizing Islam for ostentatious religious signs lacks insight into the foregoing and is somewhat unfair if one puts the phenomenon in perspective. Secularism is indeed synonymous with an attitude of discretion in relation to other beliefs. This was not the case at the time of the dominant Catholicism in France, still about fifty years ago, where priests’ cassocks, particularly visible wimples of nuns, Dress constraints of believers and grandiose parades in public space were the rule. Islam remains a very minority in France but it worries because society has become secularized, which means de-Christianized. The main reason why some are afraid of another faith is that they no longer believe in anything themselves. This is perhaps the meaning of Pope John Paul II’s famous “Do not be afraid!

From then on, the ultimate refuge can be found in a secularism that is no longer the supreme rule of living together, inherited from the separation of Church and State in 1905, but a final defense in trenches and transformed into a sectarianism all over the place, including in respect of currently weakened Christian communities. This new church without spirituality of a denatured secularism, because it has become intolerant, runs the risk of reviving a state of mind that is that of “religious wars” that were thought to have disappeared. These were undoubtedly one of the worst abominations in the history of France. The revocation in 1685 by Louis XIV of the Edict of Nantes – which was an edict of tolerance of Henry IV having put an end to more than 35 years of fierce fighting between Catholics and Protestants – was worse than a crime, a fault. The French intolerance found its source in addition to the emigration of the Huguenots, the true elite of the country. The idealized France of cathedrals, means also dragonnades.


The veil takes us far in history, but the detour is not useless which should lead us to relativize the phenomenon and to weigh it on the pharmacist’s scale. In the century of Louis XIV, the danger was supposed to be internal, it would today be presented rather as fed from the outside and would conceal the danger of communitarianism, that is to say of a disintegration of the country.

But at the end of the seventeenth century, France emptied itself of a part of its substance which benefited in particular the city of Berlin to develop. In the era of globalization, would France close in on itself and consider that the veil is the sign of harmful external influences? But it is closure, against nature and against history, that would provoke disintegration. France, which belongs to no one, is first of all an idea that makes it its greatness and this idea is universality. Let her give it up and she’ll be lost. It is sad to observe in the public debate the resurgence of a France of the past, sinister, which smells an odor of rancidity. She can’t come through.

The Grand Roi  knew how to preserve his monarchical model, but it is precisely this one, amended by Jacobin centralism, that is in question today, whatever the governments in place. The regions are suffocating, the energies are restrained and anemic. Paris, sublime city is at the same time, for a long time, the cancer of France. The confinement, the pathological search for an original purity that never existed, would be fatal. The future is probably no longer in a republican monarchy, but in a real presidential regime of separation of powers and in a renewed commitment, which also means adapted, to an European project. Those are the real issues.


Back to veil. Where is it really a problem on the European continent? In France? no more than elsewhere in reality, but some make the debate hysterical. They forget that their mothers wore a scarf and covered their heads on many occasions; they do not travel far enough to see young Russian women dressed like babushkas in churches, especially for the Orthodox Passover; they ignore these elegant women from the Gulf countries who say they love Paris but feel better in the United Kingdom where they are not singled out; they forget that Sikhs still have distinctive signs or more recently that during London 2012 Olympic hostesses were veiling in front of billions of viewers; they have never met in Kabul, still under American and Western presence, these educated young women who covered their heads, including when travelling abroad; they may not have had the opportunity to admire the inventiveness of  women in Bahrain and even Saudi Arabia making their abayas a garment that arouses the worried reservations of the Vice Police.

Yes, it is true that the veil must not isolate, ostracize and restrain any personal development. We can try to understand that in some cases it expresses modesty and that it gives a sense of protection. Finally, it can also correspond to both a search for identity and an aesthetic and, more than that, for a search of femininity of which we are no longer even aware. It then sublimates and we can talk about the beauty of the veil.

Photography by Kevin Kling © Claire-Vision éditions


          The publication of “Beauty of the veil” coincided with a controversy, reported in particular in the newspaper edition of Le Figaro, concerning the display on a billboard, by an association of the city of Nantes on the occasion of the Women’s Month – and perhaps with the support of the City council -, of a picture of woman wearing a hijab. The photograph comes reportedly from an exhibition «Faces of Nantes» on life and activity of women inhabitants of the City of Nantes in 2021.

While the controversy seems to be as much about the support provided by the city of Nantes as by the photograph itself, it reflects well the hysteria of a part of the French political class relayed without distance by the media.

Was the woman involved in drug trafficking? Did she use a Kalashnikov in the northern districts of Marseille? No, she lives in Nantes. Is her only crime to wear a veil and not a traditional outfit from neighbouring Brittany? Which French province she comes from? the world.

Persian glance © PP

                                       ⚪️⚪️ PERSIAN LETTERS ⚪️🔴

          The latest articles relating to the veil have aroused some reactions in the Muslim world which it is honest to account for. The perception of the interior of a Shiite society, in view of the only recorded comments that do not constitute a survey of scientific value, is oriented in two main directions.

The first feeling is one of concern about what may appear to be too much tolerance for the veil. It says, “In my opinion and that of many Iranian women who are obliged to wear it, the Hijab is not at all a beautiful thing and only limits and hinders our progress. We are also human beings and we like to dress as we want and appear freely in society.” In order to clear up a misunderstanding, it must be clear that the purpose is not of encouraging the wearing of the veil, but rather of pleading for the freedom and defence of it. Our interlocutor agrees that this concern is echoed by saying that «there is no problem in choosing the Hijab consciously and voluntarily».

The second feeling, resulting of campaigns and polemics on the issue, is that of the opprobrium we would strike against a Muslim society that is not as unidimensional as we might think and where the aspirations for freedom are extremely strong in depth. 

The opinion on the veil, in this case the Hijab, whether positive or negative, would be a second punishment or at least an injury to the self-esteem of each for his own identity always complex. It is affirmed that the veil cannot always be assimilated to an application of religious law but very often comes from cultural traditions (see “If I live in a very cold area, I will cover my head and protect my body from freezing in a very sunny day I might protect my skin to avoid cancer…”).

Moreover, the Hijab is not assimilated entirely to Islam by our interlocutors but to a rigorist version of it (see “Islam invites people to thinking wisely…Hijab or Veil became a frightening strong law for women…”).

Let these Persian letters draw themselves a conclusion: « Dress is dress, the real Hijab comes from insight and thoughts… ». The message is clear, the Hijab can also protect free thought. Freedom is melting, like the volcano under the ice.

Truth below the Pyrenees, error beyond“, wrote a great philosopher. What is an instrument of oppression is also a tool protecting freedom. The ridge line lies inside the same soul.

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