by Anthony Judge
This paper explores the recent focus on the challenge to French cultural identity by women there wearing the full-body burka (burkha, burqa)i. a garment obscuring any view of the face in public. The question is complicated by issues including the right to personal choice in clothing, differing understandings of public decency and the possible effects on identification for security purposes. As a case study, the response to the burka provides an excellent example of applying binary logic to a multidimensional complex of psychosocial issues related to deeper understandings of identity. The case is noteworthy both for collapsing distinctions significant to such understanding and for its responsiveness to the extremes of passing fashion, but in the name of values acclaimed as fundamental. As such it embodies the extremism it abhors. This relies on exploiting the confusion of terms and thinking associated with the face and the facile in relation to the challenge of necessary diversity in a global society threatened by various forms of imperialism. The burka is also explored as a metaphor mirroring several problematic features of western society.