Does anyone see the irony to this story?
A woman in a traditional veil, called a niqab, was asked to leave the opera in Paris because wearing a full-face Islamic veil is outlawed in France. The 2011 ban was upheld by the European Court of Human Rights in July of this year.
The incident happened at the Opera Bastille on October 3rd. The woman was given the choice of either removing the offending facemask or leaving the premises. She and her male companion, both tourists from one of the Gulf States, chose to leave.
The couple did not demand compensation for their tickets.
So the niqab-clad woman was sitting in the front row of the Paris opera house after paying 231 euros for her seat. The performance was La Traviata. And what scenes were being played out on stage, mere meters from where she was sitting? Heaving-bosomed women in deep décolleté gowns, the consumption of alcohol, dancing, multi-lovers outside of marriage, gambling, and a courtesan named Violetta Valéry. All major transgressions in the country of the niqab-wearing woman which would have lead to a Sharia verdict of stoning or flogging to death.
These are the themes of Verdi’s opera, La Traviata which, translated into English, means “The Fallen Woman.”
The incongruity is ludicrous.
“Maybe they didn’t know,” I said to my two office colleagues with whom I enjoy lively daily discussions on a wide range of topics. “Maybe they just wanted a night out while visiting Paris and didn’t have a clue what La Traviata was about.”
Or maybe they wanted to spend an evening watching Western decadence.
“A woman who wears the niqab,” said Amal firmly, a young feminist Franco-Algerian trainee lawyer, “Is a woman withdrawn and closed against the world. What she was watching at the opera is in total contradiction to her supposed principles. The hypocrisy is too funny for words.”
It’s too bad we never got to hear the point of view of the two tourists. Had they made an error in their choice of evening entertainment? Or is there more going on behind that veil than we think? And this led our espresso-fueled morning discussion to the next question -
Can art and the niqab co-exist?
Art – the free expression, conception and production of man’s creative activities;
Niqab – medieval garment that prohibits libertarianism and promotes submission.
When all is said and done though, I think it’s a shame that these visitors were singled out in the audience, given an ultimatum and ended up leaving. It appears that a handful of cast members refused to perform if a solution wasn’t found. In other words, those cast members hijacked the performance. And for what? One sole woman sitting in the audience wearing a niqab? Come on. This is petty and unworthy of a world-class opera house. Since when does Art exclude people? In my opinion, those dissenting cast members should have stuck to their task of performing and not policing.
Every year in August you’ll see the Champs-Elysées and the department stores and the air-conditioned restaurants and ice-cream shops filled with wealthy Arab families from the Gulf States. They come to escape the 50°C temperatures in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. And every year they stay in the same 5-star hotels on the avenue George V, the Place Vendome, avenue Montaigne, etc.
Do you think that any of these Muslim women is asked (by anybody) to remove her niqab? Not on your life! And lose that revenue?
Hypocrisy. It’s all around us.