France has rejected the citizenship application of a 32-year-old Moroccan woman, Faizi Silmi, who shows only her eyes in public. According to the Council of State, the country's highest appellate body, her "radical" practice of Islam conflicts with equality of the sexes and other French values. The ruling upheld a 2005 judgment that the woman exhibits "insufficient assimilation":
The legal expert who reported to the Council of State said the woman's interviews with social services revealed that "she lives almost as a recluse, isolated from French society."
The report said: "She has no idea about the secular state or the right to vote. She lives in total submission to her male relatives. She seems to find this normal and the idea of challenging it has never crossed her mind."
Urban affairs minister and practicing Muslim Fadela Amara strongly backs the decision against Silmi, who has resided in the country for eight years and is married to a French national, with whom she has three children. "The burqa is a prison; it's a straightjacket," Amara said. "It is not a religious insignia but the insignia of a totalitarian political project that advocates inequality between the sexes and which is totally devoid of democracy."
Past applicants have been denied citizenship due to links with extremist groups or a history of preaching radicalism. However, the New York Times notes that this "was the first time that a French court had judged someone's capacity to be assimilated into France based on private religious practice, taking laïcité — the country's strict concept of secularism — from the public sphere into the home." One problem with that analysis: garments that reveal no more than the eyes are used primarily in public rather than one's house. Thus, they qualify as a matter of community concern, since facial concealment presents a security risk and promotes segregation.
Four years ago, France prohibited from state schools "conspicuous" religious symbols, including Muslim headscarves, Jewish skullcaps, Christian crucifixes, and Sikh turbans. Many contend that this law goes too far in restricting individual freedom. Yet it does reflect the emphasis that the staunchly secular French republic places on the separation between faith and public life — the same values that were central to the Council of State's ruling.
Silmi's ignorance about the right to vote is also a valid reason to deny her citizenship. In the United States, for example, applicants must demonstrate basic knowledge of American civics and history by passing a short exam. Such understanding is essential for the proper functioning of countries like the U.S. and France, which are organized on the basis of ideas.
While the woman can remain in France, her husband contemplates moving the family to Morocco or Saudi Arabia. At least we can be certain that Faizi Silmi now grasps one essential freedom of Western nations: the freedom to leave.