Survey of Arts Management

Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014

Cast won’t perform if there is a Niqab in the house

During a performance of La Traviata at The Opéra Bastille,  an audience member was asked to leave because she was wearing a niqab.  The cast noticed her during the first act, and said they would not continue on with the second act until she left. The deputy director confronted the woman with the issue and she left without incident. This all happened because France has a ban on wearing niqabs in public. Anyone found wearing one can be fined up to €150 (roughly $200).

I didn’t know what a niqab was exactly, so here is a nutshell according to wikipedia:

“A niqab (Arabicنِقاب‎ niqāb , “veil” or “mask”; also called a ruband ) is a cloth which covers the face as a part of sartorial hijab. It is worn by some Muslim women in public areas and in front of non-mahram adult males. The niqab is worn in the Arab countries of the Arabian Peninsula such as Saudi ArabiaYemenOman, and the UAE. The niqab is also worn in countries such as SomaliaSyriaAfghanistanPakistanIndiaBangladesh as well as some parts of Palestinian-ruled territories, southern provinces of Iran, and additional areas with sizeable Muslim populations. Because of the wide variety of hijab worn in the Muslim world, it can be difficult to definitively distinguish between one type of veil and another. The terms niqab and burqa are often incorrectly used interchangeably; a niqab covers the face while a burqa covers the whole body from the top of the head to the ground. The Quran instructs Muslim men and women to dress modestly and to guard their private parts.”

Read more at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niqāb

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And I knew nothing about France’s ban, so here’s little more explanation:

“France adheres to a strict form of secularism, known as laïcité, which is designed to keep religion out of public life.”

“…it is part of an unapologetic effort to keep religious expression private, and to uphold the country’s republican secular identity.”

Read more at:  http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2014/07/economist-explains-2

Considering the law, I do not know what the right answer is to this situation. How do you guys feel about it? Do you think the cast and the deputy director had the right to take the law into their own hands or was this a form of prejudice? If you were the head of this organization, how would you have handled the situation?

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3 comments on “Cast won’t perform if there is a Niqab in the house

  1. evanjsanderson
    October 21, 2014

    Is the Opera (or this Opera house in particular) funded by the State? If so, I suppose they have an obligation to enforce this particular State-mandated law, no matter how bigoted it might seem. If the Opera is a private institution, in no way touched by or responsible to the Government, then it would not be incumbent upon the theater to eject that particular patron. It would, instead, be a matter of personal and institutional preference.

    I’m being a nitpick about the legal precedent because while this incident seems as Non-American as can be (even though we have our open prejudices, no Opera in it’s right mind would eject a paying customer, much less for wearing religious garb) it’s important to note that because as France turns towards hard-line secularism and cultural assimilation, so too may it’s cultural institutions as reflections of the State.

    What would be much more notable is an incident where an actor or fellow patron asked for the removal of another patron based on their wearing of the niqab, and for the theater manager to refuse to eject them. And who knows, maybe that’s happened dozens of times, but because it’s less sensational the news has refused to cover it.

  2. emkais
    October 22, 2014

    I think this is a fascinating collision of culture, policy, and art. I’ve followed this French law for quite some time and the implications associated with it continue to unfold. I have a close friend who taught in France for quite a few years and during her time there she shared with me their strict separation of church and school—as specific as students aren’t allowed to wear a necklace that has a cross on it—but at the same time school was released for a variety of holidays—including Easter or All Saints Day.

    There are certainly tensions between Arab immigrants and the French, but the French have always been very protective of their culture and have gone to great lengths to deter too much outside influence. I know security concerns were a large part of the argument for the passing of the law banning face coverings, and certainly the law is not worded to target ONLY religious face coverings.

    However, putting this through an American filter and seeing the lost seat (did they refund her ticket?), the lost patron, and any potential patrons (friends) she may share this experience with seems like a shame. In other creative spaces it also seems like a shame to exclude a potential creative collaborator.

    This also kind of strikes at one of the questions raised in the midterm…who does the organization strive to serve—the employees or the patrons?

  3. laurenelizabethdickel
    October 24, 2014

    Its very interesting to read this. Evan, I see what you are saying about the cast feeling an political obligation (if this is state funded) to say something, but often times casts for these larger famous operas houses are actually contracted and not necessarily french. I wonder if the cast discussed this together before asking her to leave and if the ‘foreign’ visiting performers also agreed that this woman should leave.

    I also have to wonder, if this law is indeed highly revered, why none of the ushers stopped her or asker her to remove her vail immediately upon entering?

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