Shim Jae Hoon at PostGlobal

Shim Jae Hoon

South Korea

Shim Jae Hoon is a Seoul-based journalist and commentator writing for a variety of international publications including YaleGlobal Online, The Straits Times of Singapore, The Taipei Times and Korea Herald. He was a correspondent for Far Eastern Economic Review in Seoul, Taipei and Jakarta. Close.

Shim Jae Hoon

South Korea

Shim Jae Hoon is a Seoul-based journalist and commentator writing for a variety of international publications including YaleGlobal Online, The Straits Times of Singapore, The Taipei Times and Korea Herald. more »

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Citizens Must Accept Cultural Norms

Requesting citizenship, to me, implies readiness to accept the cultural, political and secular values of the country whose legal membership the applicant seeks. It involves seeking all the privileges defined under the law for citizens of France, as well as the obligation to respect its laws and conventions. France not only has five million Muslims, many of whom worship in French mosques, but also Buddhists from Asia who run their own temples in many parts of France. Some Buddhist priests I saw in France and the U.S. had their scalps shaved clean and wore long robes covering their entire body. Few people, however, found them so alien, oddly out of place or trying to cry out for attention.

Wearing a burqa, however, is a different matter. As a religious practice, it represents an extreme form of discrimination against women, even a hint of sexual bondage, as a burqa is mainly intended to keep its wearers from the gaze of males. It's more than a simple matter of religious practice or ethnic custom. In Malaysia once, I was startled by the sight of an Arab woman whose black figure in a burqa dispelled many people. Some Muslim friends told me a woman in a burqa would be the best way to keep their own women from accepting the fundamentalist form of Islam. Cultural diversity is today taken for granted in many countries, but fundamentalist Islam in the form of burqas -- we have seen what it did in Afghanistan under the Taliban -- is a sign of cultural exclusivity, not accommodation.

If an Arab woman insists on wearing it in France, she should not seek its citizenship. What would happen when circumstances arise for her to remove her burqa in an accident or in hospital? Would her irate husband attack the policemen or doctors? No, she and her family should move back to Morocco and live there, not in France. Burqas repel, rather than invite acceptance. Accommodation is limited to the woman’s family. We've seen women wear them in the diplomatic community, in official status, but not as de jure members of our society because burqas set them apart. They are not suitable for a free, open society.

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