There are lots of responses today to the French ban on – no not burkas – but the covering of faces. The ban comes into force today and has already led to women being arrested in Europe at a public protest because of what they are wearing. With little political or social pressure to repeat any such policy in the UK, the government here has stated that there is no prospect of replicating the ban on this side of la Manche. The French ban is estimated to effect only a few thousand Muslim women throughout the republic… and also skiers, people at Halloween costume parties, and possibly bearded men, says Viv Groskop, challenging what she sees as a threat to European freedoms.
For Sarkozy and his friends, the burqa is no joke. It’s dangerous and illegal. Women wearing the burqa and the niqab (the more common facial veil) will not exactly be arrested on sight. But if they wear a veil over their face in a public place, anyone can ask them to uncover their face – or leave. Not quite stop and search. Just stop and unmask. If a woman refuses to co-operate, citizens are advised to call the police. The fine is €150.
Does this sound a little unfriendly to you? If so, be very worried. Because this trend is spreading. A ban is already in operation in Belgium and under discussion in Canada, Denmark and Spain. It is likely to become law in the Netherlands this year or next. There have been calls in Sweden for the niqab to be prohibited in schools and universities.
A de facto ban already exists in Italy (where a 1975 antiterrorism law forbids the covering of the face) and Berlusconi’s party has drafted a new, more specific ruling. Last year, a Tunisian woman was fined €500 for wearing a burqa in Italy’s Piedmont region.
… [T]he women’s rights defence is a ridiculous excuse for something very close to racism. As Ed Balls, then schools secretary, put it last year: “I wouldn’t want to be part of a religion myself where we said to women and girls, ‘You have to wear a veil.’ But I also would not want to be in the kind of society where people were told how to dress when they walked down the streets.”
… If the French were not so cowardly – and were being transparent about what they are doing – they would actually outlaw the burqa and the niqab by name, instead of coyly banning “the covering of the face”. Presumably, it’s now against the law in France to attend a fancy dress party dressed as Zorro or Catwoman. Because if there’s one rule for one set of people who cover their face, that same rule should surely apply to anyone whose face is not immediately visible. Non?
Indeed, if the French are going to do this, let’s hope they do it properly.Le Figaro has already expressed distress that it is technically against the law to wear a ski mask in a public place. Bad news for the black run at Val d’Isère. Aren’t there some rampant beards that might sprout dangerously in the direction of facial dissimulation?
John Lichfield in the Independent meets Parisian women protesting the ban.
Mariam says she wears the niqab, or full-length Islamic veil, by “personal choice” and for “religious conviction”. From today, if she leaves her home in the Paris suburbs she will have to expose her face in public for the first time in five years.
“I have decided to obey the law but to leave home as little as possible,” the 32-year-old said. “I accept that the law of France is the law, even though I think that it is foolish and wrong to force me to go against my beliefs.”
Most French Muslim women who wear the full-face veil are expected to bow, like Mariam, to the so-called “burka ban” which takes effect today.
But pockets of fierce opposition remain. On Saturday, police arrested 61 people who tried to hold an unauthorised demonstration against the ban in Paris. They included 20 women wearing the niqab – the Salafist or Saudi full-length veil with only a narrow eye opening.
Among those protesting or hoping to protest were a handful of Islamist extremists from Britain and Belgium, including Anjem Choudary, once a member of the banned group Islam4UK and a follower of the extremist preacher, Omar Bakri. Mr Choudary was arrested at the French border.
Their involvement was a political windfall for President Nicolas Sarkozy and a source of frustration for moderate Muslim leaders in France who have been trying to distance themselves both from the burka and the burka ban.
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]The great unveiling unravels French secularism,