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Ban the burqa? Or ban such bans?

Neither France nor Iran should dictate religious garb.

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It may be hard for an American to fathom – this idea that government would dictate a religious dress code.

That goes too far in so many ways. It violates the separation of church and state. It suppresses religious freedom. And in a broader sense, it squelches identity – for isn't fashion (religious or not) a means of self-expression?

The American view has its sympathizers in other countries, but also its strenuous opponents. In France, for example, President Nicolas Sarkozy this week endorsed the idea of a ban on the burqa. This is the conservative Islamic head-to-toe covering with mesh or a slit at the face that is worn by some Muslim women in public. (In the Persian Gulf states it's known as a niqab.)

Mr. Sarkozy called the burqa "subservience," not religious garb. "In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity." A parliamentary panel will study whether a ban is warranted.

In Iran, the Islamic government takes just the opposite view. Women must be mostly covered – hair, neck, and loose-fitting clothes on the body – as a sign of religious morality. A "spring thaw" from 1997 to 2005 under a reformist president allowed a liberal interpretation of the dress code, but the current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, revved up the morality police to once again enforce it.

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