A history of Pride

Toronto Pride Week turned 29 this year, but the fight for gay rights began much earlier.

June 1969 saw the world’s first Pride: riots at the Stonewall Inn in New York City in response to violent police raids the previous night. It’s a far cry from the festive and well-supported Pride Week today. These 40 years were proudly celebrated by U of T marchers from LGBT-OUT at last Sunday’s parade, the crowning event of the 10-day Pride celebrations that drew one million visitors to Toronto. From Canada’s first “homophile association” to protesting bathhouse raids, U of T’s history reflects the oppression and courage of those who paved the way.

Northern Nights

WEDNESDAY

Jason Collett (Courthouse, 8 p.m.)

A surprisingly tight opening set from the veteran songwriter, who has toned down the fake-Dylanism and assembled a raucous band behind him. —CHRIS BERUBE

THURSDAY

Pace the Stairs (Silver Dollar Room, 9 p.m.)

Syncopated noise, which kind of made me miss the Blood Brothers. I knew it would be a good show when the bouncers outside were complaining about how loud it was.—DAVID PIKE

Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head (El Mocambo, 11 p.m.)

Everything about them seems so wrong—a sound of pure ’80s cheese, enthusiasm that outstrips musical chops, side ponytails—but seeing them live just felt so right! A boisterous dance party all the way through, and the surprise of the festival.—CB

Health (Horseshoe Tavern, 1 a.m.)

I can count on one hand the number of breaks in between Health’s overwhelming wall-of-noise set. I couldn’t hear anything when I left the venue. Also, never wear flip flops to the Horseshoe.—DP

Tin Star Orphans (Horseshoe Tavern, 3 a.m.)

“Welcome to first night 3 a.m.! We are your hosts, Tin Star Orphans.” Ah, TSO, if only you could rock the Horseshoe ’til four in the morning every night. My liver would probably explode, but I wouldn’t mind. —JOE HOWELL

FRIDAY

Matt & Kim (Whippersnapper, 8 p.m.)

Instead of Prozac, they should prescribe Matt & Kim shows to depressives. The duo is just so darn happy! Sadly, the pair didn’t get nekkid like in the instant-classic “Lessons Learned” video, but apparently Kim’s grandfather was disappointed by the Times Square streaking. So, maybe that’s out for good.—JH

Wintersleep (Yonge-Dundas Square, 9:45 p.m.)

While tight enough musically, their live show was a bit of a snore. It takes a lot of stage presence to do Yonge and Dundas justice, and Wintersleep just doesn’t have it.—JH

Deep Dark Woods (Dakota Tavern, 10 p.m.)

There’s something fitting about listening to these crooners lament that “all the money [they] had is gone,” while most of the audience sits around indulging in that recessionary staple of macaroni and cheese. A sultry, gorgeous set.

—SHOSHANA WASSER

Fond of Tigers (Music Gallery, 10 p.m.)

For me, the test of a good band is whether they can do something that I can’t. Fond of Tigers, whose seven-part tracks are impenetrably dense (and sounded great in this hallowed space), knock me on my ass every time I see them.

—ALEX MOLOTKOW

Hooded Fang (Dakota Tavern, 11 p.m.)

What would Jacob Two-Two think of Hooded Fang? With their whimsical assortment of instruments and enigmatic lead singers, the band had almost enough charm to play two sets.—SW

No Age (Lee’s Palace, 12 a.m.)

Why is this two-piece band thing so gimmicky? Why are there hipsters push-moshing?—DP

“I didn’t know there was a wash- room back here!”—Guy in line at Lee’s Palace, shortly before peeing in the alley. —JH

Parallels (Reverb, 1 a.m.)

Dark glam synth rock is making a comeback, baby! This sparsely at- tended show was the best of the eight acts I saw that night. Check out their MySpace and see them next chance you get (which should be soon, considering that they’re native Torontonians.)—JH

SATURDAY

The Zoobombs (Yonge-Dundas Square, 2:30 p.m.)

Impossible to ignore live, these Japanese punks bend genres in one of the most consistently flawless sets you are likely to see anywhere in the world. Strong stuff.—CB

Caledonia (Bread & Circus, 10 p.m.)

When Caledonia’s set was ended by the sound guy turning on “Just Like Heaven,” fans protested until the folksy group promised a few more songs. Better than The Cure? Well, definitely pretty good.—SW

Simply Saucer (The Reverb, 2 a.m.)

The more you like Simply Saucer’s records, the more prudent it is to cherish the hard copy and never, ever see the band perform live. Of course, their material is still way better than 90 per cent of the acts performing this weekend, and they can still rock. But the hard truth is that at age 45 it’s impossible to do what you did when you were 20.—AM

Sunday

Arrington de Dionyso (The Music Gallery, 3 p.m.)

This was cancelled at the last minute, which means I walked the 15 minutes to the Music Gallery for nothing. So fuck Arrington de Dionyso. I bet his real name is John.—AM

GZA w/ King Khan (Yonge-Dundas Square, 8 p.m.)

A crowd-pleasing set that included everything you would want: selections largely taken from Liquid Swords, shout outs to ODB and one firm reminder that Wu Tang is for the children. Like a big, hip-hop group hug.—CB

Funding crisis hits University of California

It turns out that no public university is immune to crises.
Facing what Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is calling “financial ruin,” the University of California is beset with its largest budget cuts since Ronald Reagan was governor nearly 40 years ago.

Schwarzenegger is proposing cuts of 20 per cent to the annual UC budget, or nearly $2 billion USD in state funding. UC is the fourth largest public university system in the United States. Sixty per cent of its funding is from state grants, with 29 per cent from student fees and 11 per cent from general funds and endowments.

The cuts are leaving each of UC’s 10 campuses struggling to stay above water amid double-digit shortfalls. Some have it even worse. At Berkeley campus, the yearly deficit is now predicted at $145 million, while Santa Barbara is facing a $45-million shortfall.

To make up the funding gaps, the university has begun taking drastic measures.

UC’s board of regents convened June 18 to approve, among other things, an immediate 9.3 per cent student fee increase, following another 10 per cent increase earlier in this same fiscal year. Though faculty members have begun taking voluntary pay cuts—after all employees were forced to take up to eight per cent pay cuts in the spring—layoffs are expected in the next fiscal quarter.

Tutoring has also been cut deeply, along with education abroad programs and state-funded diaspora students associations. In all, student services are facing an eight to 20 per cent cut across the board. Compounding the problem is the record number of students admitted to UC this year.

UC’s woes are not uncommon among public universities in the United States, where the recession has led every state to cut its grant funding for higher education. This fiscal year alone, 26 states cut funding for public universities by tens of millions of dollars.

Florida State University is struggling to make up a $32 million shortfall, while Clemson University cut nearly 500 jobs while raising tuition in June. In January, Arizona State saw cuts of $55 million from its annual $400 million in state funding, leading to the layoff of another 500 employees.

For students at a UC, the pain of a new budget crisis is only beginning to come into focus. Many administrators have begun privately floating the idea of making UC a three-year institution to reduce costs, according to Elliot Rosenfeld, the university news editor of The Daily Nexus, a student newspaper at UC Berkeley.

“The state sees no way out, they pass this along to the UC’s leaders, and they pass this along to the students. It seems like new organizations are cropping up every day, and students are joining to voice their displeasure,” said Rosenfeld. He noted more students now have to take on part-time or full-time jobs to cover their fees.

“But everyone persists. We go with the grind, and live with the increased fees, but the future doesn’t look good.”

Living on the Fringe

The Fringe theatre festival continues through Sunday, but with over 100 plays vying for your attention, deciding what to see can be a challenge. The Varsity picks the productions that are worth the $10 ticket price.

The Laramie Project (Theatre Western)

The Laramie Project portrays a pretty significant story. After the hate-fuelled murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998, the Tectonic Theatre Company travelled to the village to conduct interviews about the incident with townsfolk. The play, which includes testimonials from over sixty real individuals, addresses issues of homophobia, the death penalty, and human interaction. In light of Proposition 8 and the American battle over gay marriage, the topic is certainly worth addressing.

However, this is not an especially significant production. The staging lacks polish, and the amount of physical movement detracts from the poignancy of much of the dialogue. The eight-person cast bravely took on the challenge of portraying many different people, yet the majority of the actors could use a lesson in subtlety. A few of the characters were so overplayed that they became mere stereotypes, and their words lost resonance. But in this tragedy, it’s the words—the ones that came from the mouths of real people reacting to real events — that really matter. —WYNDHAM BETTENCOURT-MCCARTHY

Rating: VVv

Wanderlust (Martin Dockery)

Although theatre is about storytelling, it can generally be said that some stories—especially those told in one-person shows—are not worth hearing. But Martin Dockery, the director and sole actor of Wanderlust, came prepared. The performance consists of anecdotes from Dockery’s five-month soul quest through West Africa, beginning in the Sahara en route to Timbuktu (and as Dockery points out, any story that starts with Timbuktu reels you in pretty quick).

For better or worse, he ignores the political element completely; the is- sue of being a white, wealthy tourist in a very poor, partially war-ravaged region is mostly left untouched. Dockery’s story—how he abandoned a temp job at the New York Stock Exchange and casual sex in Brooklyn in search of something deeper—hinges on the temporality of emotion and the ephemeral nature of meaning. Comic and charismatic, Dockery’s performance succeeds on the intrigue of his tales and his own sincerity and enthusiasm. He really wants to tell the audience something, to show that his exodus was not for naught, and the least we can do is sit back and listen. —WBM

Rating: VVV

36 Little Plays About Hopeless Girls (Birdtown & Swanville)

References to panel vans and a cad named Ronnie make the rounds in Aurora Stewart de Peña’s 36 Little Plays about Hopeless Girls. Using a snappy episodic format, 36 features portrayals of a handful of different girls (Glissandra, Rotunda, Satine, et al), most of them a little alienated from notions of successful living. Funny, and at times melancholic, they go to baseball games or have measured discussions about “the average bitch.” De Peña cleverly situates the playlets in different Toronto locales, all with a slight fairy tale patina, from English gardens in the Annex to filthy-floored apartments in Parkdale.

Perfectly mannered performances by the whole cast blend the satirical with the earnest. Highlights include the stoic Laura McCoy as Ny’Pha, toilet paper–coveting creature of the night, and intensely choreographed transitions to Canadian Tire versions of Hole. Mega-props to Devon Tyler Dagworthy for putting together a pastel wardrobe that goes along perfectly with each hopeless girl’s specific persona, making them look fabulous in a festival that isn’t usually known for its literal (and figurative) frills.

—NAOMI SKWARNA

Rating: VVVV

Politically Correct Bedtime Stories (The Pheasant Plucker’s Mates)

A Big Bad Wolf sick of Little Red’s barbed comments about his appearance; a clothing-optional kingdom; a Cinderelly who takes solace in breaking it down to Annie Lennox—these are just some of the witty renditions in Jessica Beaulieu’s adaptation of James Finn Garner’s Politically Correct Bedtime Stories. Vastly entertaining and well- performed, the frenetic ensemble deconstruct the familiar tales with cheeky self-consciousness, never crossing into glibness.

A few scenes, like the Three Little Leftist Pigs, would work better if they were shortened to just a side of bacon. But the charisma of the performers (including many University College Drama Society students) keeps up the pace even when the script lags behind. As well, there periodically seemed to be too much action on the Tarragon’s wide stage. The hyperactivity sometimes distracts from the subtler comedic moments generated by, as narrator Marcel Dragonieri exuberantly declares at the show’s end, the “white across the board!” ensemble.—NS

Rating: VVVV

The Emergency Monologues (Drinking Well)

Blood, guts, feces, severed testicles: no body part is spared in Morgan Jones Phillips’ collection of tales from his days as a paramedic in the EMS trenches. While he begins with an airtight disclaimer, Phillips is all about spontaneity; the show is structured around a roulette wheel labelled with various emergency incidents, and each spin decides which story he will tell, making the show a unique experience each time.

Phillips has a knack for narration, and what he lacks in tact—his memories are christened with titles like “My First Hanging” and “Edna and the Poo”—he more than makes up for in comedic timing. The audience’s visible reactions to the gruesome stories are just as intriguing as the play itself—as the theatre emptied, people seemed to be checking to make sure all their limbs were still intact. Beneath all the gross-out jokes, Phillips man- ages to hint at how our skin and bones are reflections of who we are, and how our bodies are, ultimately, ourselves.—WBM

Rating: VVVV

Tim Buck 2 (Praxis Theatre)

Give Tim Buck 2 this credit: for a partial recreation of Eight Men Speak (the 1933 play performed in Toronto before a crowd of 1,500 to protest the arrest of Canadian Communist Party leader Tim Buck), it doesn’t aim to be way deep, then fail. It does, however, manage to assemble a fairly entertaining hour, even if there is little which theater- goers can take away from it.

While the play-within-a-play structure was good for laughs and managed to skewer the humourlessness of art deemed fit for the workers, what kept me hanging on, and what ultimately left me hanging, was the play’s ill-defined setting: when are we? But then I suppose injustice is eternal, hence the play’s title and its willingness to Make A Point. If you recognize the blurred portrait on the play’s posters—it’s like Omar Khadr is Tim Buck all over again! And it’s a pun!—you probably know too much about Guantanamo to get hot under the collar over the play’s conclusion. And yeah, it’s a mock- parliament debate that not even a high school civics teacher could love. — JADE COLBERT

Red Machine: Part 1 (The Room)

There’s something to be said for a little bit of exposition. The Red Machine is comprised of three separate pieces by Michael Rubenfeld, Erin Shields, and Brendan Gall, each fragment representing a sojourn into writer Hugo’s blocked brain. The labyrinthine structure is a great concept, but it doesn’t translate clearly in production.

There are powerful moments: performer Kristy Kennedy’s twitching, bound prophet evokes Beckett’s enigmatic monologue Not I as her body and language resist each other. Tova Smith, in a thankless but sexy role, plays up the noir element to great visual effect, but the allusions and literary motifs do little to bind the separate scenes into something holistic. Although the intention is admirable, The Red Machine might benefit from some more of the usual narratological conventions in order to render it more than just a well-lit, well-performed round of Exquisite Corpse.—NS

Rating: VVV

Fucking Stephen Harper: How I Sexually Assaulted the 22nd Prime Minister of Canada and Where it Got Me (Ten Foot Pole)

Disclaimer: Fucking Stephen Harper delves very little into, as the subtitle promises, how Rob Salerno sexually assaulted his Right Honourableness and where it got him. There is, in fact, zero fucking of the 22nd Prime Minister of Canada. However, it does give Salerno, who did not actually grab his interview subject by the balls but does actually write for Xtra, a soapbox from which to bemoan the state of his career. At that point, you will just bemoan how time seems to have slowed.

Admittedly, none of us would be in this mess if the Conservatives had to win votes in predominantly gay ridings to gain a majority government. Or if most Canadians considered gay issues their issues. Or if Harper’s (consensual) handlers didn’t try to dictate media coverage down to the font type. There’s a whole Kama Sutra of ways Harper is fucking everyone over, which is a lot to demonstrate when you’re just a one-man show. – JC

Rating: VVv

For showtimes and more information, visit www.fringetoronto.com.

An ocean away, Iranians chew over election

“It shocked all of us because we were so hopeful,” said Pouya Alagheband, describing the moment he first heard that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected president of Iran. The engineering grad student and board member of the Iranian Association at the University of Toronto was part of a group of about 280 Iranian students who travelled to Ottawa to vote in the now-disputed June 12 elections.

Ahmedinejad’s victory is considered suspect by many who believe the announcement was too soon for votes to have been properly counted and that rival candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi was more popular. Mass protests have faced harsh crackdown by government forces, with debated numbers of civilian casualties and an estimated 200 protestors imprisoned.

In Toronto’s Iranian community, international students and homegrown Iranian-Canadians have the daunting task of determining what the diaspora can do to make a difference in Iran. Before the uprising, many of those eligible chose to boycott the election in objection to what they view as a corrupt system. At a panel discussion at OISE on June 28, student leaders and activists gathered to discuss the issues raised by the election.

Mahdi Takaffoli, a doctoral candidate at Ryerson University, said the boycott is not a “political solution.” Though the system is far from perfect, he said, the path to change is through electing progressive leaders like Mousavi. Takaffoli said that if people had not voted and been invested in the election, the current uprising would not have happened. “I do not like the experience of revolution,” he said, adding that violence is not justified by political ideals.

Donya Ziaee, whose Master’s thesis at York University examined gender and labour in post-revolutionary Iran, didn’t vote but didn’t boycott the election either. “As a personal choice, I chose not to vote. I didn’t feel that any of the candidates offered anything that was significantly progressive,” she said.

Though Ziaee can see why many support Mousavi over the other candidates, she is critical of his politics and his “utter inability” to reach out to grassroots movements. “We see a movement that claims to be political and yet fails to mention many different dimensions within itself: the gender dimension, the class dimension, the ethnic dimension. These have all been banished from our discussions.”

Reza, a PhD student in molecular biology who did not want to divulge his last name, agreed that the uprising is not just about the election, though it was a significant trigger. “Many forces are merging behind Mousavi now because they see the opportunity to form a stronger opposition. The youth in Iran want more freedom in choosing their way of life and expressing their beliefs. Women in Iran have been asking for equal rights with men for a long time.”

Despite their diverging opinions, all interviewed in this article condemned the violent crackdown on political protestors. As York doctoral student Salah Hassanpour put it, “Any member of any type of armed forces established by the Islamic Republic who has so much as laid a hand on a single person, in our eyes, is already and without question guilty of crimes against humanity.”

With translation by Arash Azizi

The Girlfriend Experience

Considering that Steven Soderbergh’s latest film, The Girlfriend Experience, is about a call girl and features former porn star Sasha Grey, it’s interesting and admirable that the film should be all talk and no sex. Although Grey is a brick wall dramatically, The Girlfriend Experience is still a clever meditation on how people sacrifice their self-respect and lie to themselves to varying degrees. Although it’s a conversation film, it isn’t a visually dull. Peter Andrews’ camera work brings something new and refreshing to each scene to keep the viewer engaged in the conversations.

Chelsea is a young, upscale, sophisticated call girl in New York City, giving her rich and pathetic clients what she calls the “girlfriend experience.” Chelsea is the kind of girl you can take to fancy restaurants, movie theatres, or to meet with friends. By doing regular date- like activities with her clients in addition to providing sexual services, she maintains an illusion of an emotional exchange with these men.

However, Chelsea is not a sophisticated woman. Her limited vocabulary and childish speech, including her overuse of the word “like,” reveal her lack of culture and education. But so long as she looks pretty and plays the part that she thinks her clients want (or even need), everyone remains satisfied. Chelsea, the pretty prostitute, attends to their insecurities and allows them to bathe in narcissism while talking about themselves, their wives, and their children.

Chelsea’s boyfriend, Chris (Chris Santos) provides an interesting professional juxtaposition. Soderbergh likens Chris’ transactions as a personal trainer to prostitution, as he too must sell his smiles to get ahead. However, Chelsea is no heroine herself: though her job makes her feel essential, it comes at a cost to her self-respect.

Her personality is as constructed as her appearance, and it’s unclear from the film whether she is ever truly herself. The only hint of this is in her last sexual encounter, which is raw and clearly portrays Chelsea as being used. At this point, there’s no longer anything behind which she can hide.

RATING: VVV

Colombian free-trade agreement: making a bad situation worse

When Canada’s Parliament reconvenes for its fall sitting, one of the items expected to feature prominently on the legislative agenda is the implementation of the Canada-Colombia Free-Trade Agreement. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s right-wing government has mounted a concerted lobbying campaign in Canada to pass Bill C-23 in the hopes of parlaying the ensuing diplomatic capital into an eventual accord with the United States. Congress had already rejected a free-trade deal with Uribe’s government in 2007, citing Colombia’s poor human rights record.

Recently however, Uribe has made his case directly to Barack Obama. In what appeared to be a dramatic reversal of his position when he was a Senator, President Obama spoke glowingly of Uribe’s administration at the follow-up press conference, and expressed support for a U.S.-Colombia free-trade deal.

It was beginning to look unlikely that the deal would happen here in Canada, as the previously undecided Liberals hinted at joining the NDP and Bloc in opposition to Conservative plans to see it through. But Obama’s blessing will likely affect the bill’s implementation.

A Liberal reversal now would be a bitter pill for Canadian civil society and international NGOs like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the International Crisis Group. They have all come out against free trade agreements with Colombia, claiming these deals would probably end up worsening an already terrible situation in the South American country.

When asked about President Obama’s statement that there was “great progress” in Colombia, Beth Berton-Hunter of Amnesty International Canada told The Varsity that while “[Obama] is very good at presenting a positive case, he doesn’t have the evidence to prove it.”

“We [had] four groups of Colombians represented here,” Berton-Hunter said at an Amnesty event at Harbourfront on July 1. “They felt that there was no way Colombians would be better off under free-trade.”

The UN, too, has weighed in—the High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay argued that the government and military have committed crimes against humanity. Her comments followed a major scandal late last year, when it was revealed that Colombian security forces were killing civilians, many of them children and teenagers, and dressing the bodies as rebels in order to inflate the government’s numbers of guerrillas killed in the country’s ongoing internal conflict.

The government responded to the “false positive” scandal, as it has become known, by firing 27 officers, including three generals, and disbanding a brigade.

But the atrocities have continued, leaving many wondering about the extent of the government’s involvement in extrajudicial killings. The UN Special Rapporteur for Extrajudicial Killings, who concluded a fact-finding mission to Colombia on June 18, noted in a preliminary press release that “[extrajudicial] killings were carried out in a more or less systematic fashion by significant elements within the military.”

The number of unionists killed by government and paramilitary groups in 2008 increased by 18 per cent from the year before, and is on course to continue rising in 2009. Suspicion that the Uribe government had prior knowledge of these murders was heightened in late May by the resignation of Colombia’s former ambassador to Canada and CCFTA negotiator, Senator Jorge Visbal Martelo, as a result of his ties to paramilitary groups.

With over 380,000 Colombians being forced to flee from their homes last year alone, the number of internally displaced people in the country is second to only to that of Sudan.

Implementation legislation for the CCFTA was stalled after the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade released a report in June of last year recommending that Canada first undertake an independent assessment of the impact of a free-trade deal on human rights in Colombia.

Canadian NGOs have been front-and-centre of the debate. As the numbers of internally displaced people, extrajudicial killings, and disappearances continued to grow last year, civil society organizations like the Canadian Council for International Cooperation have warned that the CCFTA could very plausibly exacerbate these problems. In a CCIC report entitled Making A Bad Situation Worse, Scott Sinclair of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives notes that much of the paramilitary violence is in resource-rich areas where Canadian oil and mining companies are active. While the CCFTA would give these investors—whose interests are intertwined with the paramilitary groups that are responsible for the massacres—broad and directly enforceable investment rights, it would not institute countervailing legal safeguards to protect the millions of Colombians living in terror, and would even hamper Colombia’s ability to introduce such measures in the future.

After a series of disastrous foreign policy blunders in recent years, it appeared as if Canada would get this one right. Michael Ignatieff began saying publicly that the Liberals needed an independent assessment of the deal before giving it the go-ahead. President Obama’s praises for Uribe’s “diligence” and “courage,” his statement that “the burden is not simply on Colombia” but also somehow on Congress, and his emphasis on Uribe’s high approval rating—with no mention of how that rating was brutally achieved—could very conceivably cause the Liberals to reverse course and side with the Conservatives later this year and pass Bill C-23.

While Obama’s change of tone is deeply disappointing for those of us who hoped that he would make human rights a centrepiece of U.S.-Colombia relations, Canada does not have to go down the same road. If the Liberals manage to hold their ground on this issue, refusing to use Obama’s endorsement of Uribe as political cover to pass the CCFTA, Canadians will be able to say, on the Colombian issue at least, we were able to find a more humane footing than our neighbours to the south.

Sarkozy blasts burkas

Publicly saying anything that comes to one’s mind while hiding behind the facade of freedom from oppression is a sign of ignorance, and can become a new means of oppression in itself. This was the case on June 21 when French President Nicolas Sarkozy condemned the burka, a common headscarf worn by Muslim women. Sarkozy stated that the wearing of the burka is not an expression of religious freedom, but rather a practice that reduces women to subservitude. What defines a certain people has wrongly become stigmatized as a form of abuse.

French policies banning the burka were initially restricted to educational and government organizations; every citizen was expected to leave their modes of religious expression outside these institutions in order to maintain secularism within the organs of the state.

But today, the situation has taken a different turn altogether. Sarkozy wants to “free the women in burkas and provide them with an identity.” How many of these women he encountered personally before making this assessment is a question that will remain unanswered. Moreover, he does not seem to realize that the vast majority of these women choose to remain veiled, and want to associate themselves with a Muslim identity as well as a French one. Thus by making such remarks, and by planning on implementing consequential policies, the president is in fact stripping these women of the right to self-identification and individuality.
The true definition of secularism is the separation of state and religion. It means that no state has the right to enforce religious laws or hold prejudices for or against any religious background. It does not, however, mean that citizens cannot practice their own religion privately. A Muslim woman wearing a veil or a Jewish man wearing a kippah are no different from other French people. They are just French Muslims or French Jews. They are free to practice their religion as they please and express themselves how they wish, while living in a country that claims to be a true democracy.

Impeding religious practices, however, is a serious violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which asserts “universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.” It’s also contradictory to France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, which states that the law can only prohibit actions detrimental to society as a whole. I fail to see how wearing a veil in France harms French society.

But the main concern here is not secularism. The problem is the confusion of the term secularism with uniformism. Sarkozy has not only muddled the two, but has pushed the dialogue to an extreme. It will not be too long until people will legally be forced to alter the color of their skin, their height, and their names to conform to French norms. Sarkozy’s use of the word freedom, in essence, is a mutilation of the idea. People should be free under their own terms and conditions.