First of all, I'll give my personal view which is in conformity to Sarkozy's view. To make my job easier, I'll just borrow his words.
"[W]e cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity... The burqa is not a religious sign, it's a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement — I want to say it solemnly..."
Well said Monsieur Sarkozy as long as this is your personal view. However, as the President Sarkozy, you should have shown some more restraint and responsibility.
I firmly believe that any kind of social reforms should be endogenetic in nature, i.e. from within the community. Only then can it be acceptable to the community at large. Exogenetic reforms, i.e. those enforced from outside can only lead to resistance.
Burqa or no burqa should be decided by the Muslim world. As I already said that personally, I do not favour it. However being a non-muslim, I can only criticise it and that too in a polite manner only.
What should Sarkozy do?
However, being the incumbent of the position of ultimate responsibility in France, Sarkozy has no right to air his criticisms in a high profile speech (He was speaking to the lawmakers in the historic chateau at Versailles, somewhat analogous to Indian President's address to the Parliament). At best, he can get together the Muslim community leaders and discuss the issue with them. If he thinks he has the ability to convince his fellow Frenchmen on the other side of the faith, he should talk directly to them; not enforcing any reforms from above but generating such conditions that those from within strive for necessary reforms.
This can be done by nurturing the moderates within the community and supporting them to come forward against any ills within the practices and beliefs of their community. However, utmost care should be given to the fact that such an initiative does not turn into yet another propaganda which further fuels the 'clash of the civilizations', hence having both domestic and international ramifications. Moreover, while doing so, the orthodox sections should not be totally ignored but kept in a good humour. However, if they show 'illegal' resistance against the initiatives of their moderate brethren, then legal machinery of the sate can be used against them.
Let us talk of India.
Who abolished Sati in India?
Officially it was William Bentick, the first Governer General of India, in 1829.
Does that mean this reform was exogenetic?
No, it was not. British were never interested in alienating Indians by disturbing their social structure. Their interest was only economic in nature.
It was Raja Ram Mohan Roy who forced the British Raj to bring these reforms by his continued efforts since 1812.
Same goes for all other social reforms (maybe with an exception or two) that took place in British India. Britishers only gave the legal seal to issues which were brought forward by the Indian Reformers.
I am not against reforms. However, being a self-proclaimed Empathic Libertarian, I am against their 'unempathic' implementation.
Hence, when a person like Sarkozy questions the Islamic practices in public, he alienates his Muslim citizens, even some moderate ones. Being the President of the Republic which gave the world (and India) the ideals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, he should be careful in interpreting these ideals in the right context.
http://www.tibettoons.com/ and http://heyhijabi.com/ (edited)