France Bans the Veil

In April, France put into effect the first ban on face veils in Europe.  The burqa, which covers the full face, and the niqab, which leaves only the eyes exposed will not be allowed in public.  Anyone caught in violation of the law will face a €150 ($202) or French citizenship lessons.

The French government has offered two explanations for their actions.  They argue first, that this is primarily a security issue.  Faces need to be seen in order to check identity papers and to maintain safety.  But, they also argue that this is a necessary step in order to protect women from oppression.

However, many women have actually reported that they feel more oppressed now than ever before.  Many say that they were simply ignored and left alone in the past.  Now, anytime they leave the house, they are subject to discrimination and physical violence.  There have been reports of bus drivers and shopkeepers refusing women as customers, and of people attacking women in the streets and pulling their face coverings off themselves.  One woman reported that anytime she leaves the house, she has to take pepper spray and an air horn with her for protection.  Hind Ahmas, a 32 year old woman said,

“My quality of life has seriously deteriorated since the ban. In my head, I have to prepare for war every time I step outside, prepare to come up against people who want to put a bullet in my head. The politicians claimed they were liberating us; what they’ve done is to exclude us from the social sphere. Before this law, I never asked myself whether I’d be able to make it to a cafe or collect documents from a town hall. One politician in favor of the ban said niqabs were ‘walking prisons’. Well, that’s exactly where we’ve been stuck by this law.”

Despite the public reaction, there has been very uneven police action and while over 100 women have been stopped, there actually hasn’t been a fine imposed on anyone.  The police are required to ticket a veiled woman and refer her to a judge to hand out the fine.  The very first decision will take place on September 22 when a judge will decide whether to enforce it or not.

Ultimately, many believe that this will not happen, since a final decision by the judge would be appealable to the European Court of Human Rights, which could cause significant embarrassment and damage France’s reputation.   Were this decision to reach the Court, it is likely that it would be overruled for violating personal liberty and freedom of religion.  This result could have a sweeping effect throughout Europe where many countries are themselves currently considering a ban.

 

Is this a good way to deal with a valid security concern?  Is there another way to protect security interests without interfering with religious freedom?  What do you think of France’s assertion that they are protecting women?

 

UPDATE: A judge in the town of Meaux, has handed out the first fines to two women who were stopped by police for wearing the veil back in May.  The women said that they will immediately appeal to the French Supreme Court and all the way to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary.

Source:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/sep/19/battle-for-the-burqa

6 comments

  1. France’s reasons for implementing this law do not seem to be very strong. Their first argument is that they need to be able to see people’s faces in order to check identity papers. This argument fails because the veil may just be temporarily removed in order to satisfy this objective. Their second argument is that the law will help maintain safety. This argument fails because the removal of a veil will not necessarily stop a person from committing a crime in the country. In addition, the only way this could be helpful would be if any of the people prohibited from wearing veils were already identified as safety risks and police authorities knew their face. The last argument France put forth was that the law was put in place to help protect women from oppression. This argument fails because those who wear a veil feel more oppressed than ever before. The veil is a sign of their religious beliefs and most refuse to take it off. Because they refuse to take the veil off these women are subject to even more oppression than they were before this law was put into place. In my opinion, France has provided very weak reasons for implementing this law.

  2. I was against the law banning the niqab in public places back in April, and I am against it today. I see this law, as do many others, as a blatant disregard for a person’s religious freedom. I also find it especially shocking that the ban was passed in one of the most liberal countries in the world, one that highly values gender equality. As a published letter to The Guardian pointed out, I can only see the ban on the niqab as a dangerous development in the intensification of Islamophobia in Europe. Furthermore, I fail to see how this law can really be an effective tool for improving France’s national security. If anything, the ban could lead to more animosity towards Western nations by Islamic fundamentalists, thus increasing the potential for more terrorist attacks against France and the West. Additionally, the law seems too narrow to effectively increase security. France should initiate a law that is more gender-neutral, considering many terrorist attacks are carried out by men and not women. Lastly, the law does nothing to protect gender equality since Muslim women can only practice a custom or tradition within the confines of their own home, and not in view of the public. In doing so, gender stereotypes continue to be reinforced.

  3. While security may appear to be a strong force behind this law, much literature that I have come across explains that security was not as important as other factors in the true reasons for enacting the ban on the veil. Many sources cite that France has always been a very secular country, and this law further promulgates secularism by banning the religious symbol in public. Another factor in enacting the law was to promote the liberal values of equality and individualism- both of which are compromised by the wearing of the veil.

    As for religious considerations, it appears that this law can be viewed as an attack on religious freedom and expression. While I do not believe (although I am not an expert in this field and therefore am not completely certain) that other religious symbols have not been banned, it seems unfair to only target the Muslim veil. The veil, much like the yarmulke to the orthodox Jews (pronouned ya-ma-ka), is an expression of one’s religious faith, and thus prohibiting women from wearing the veil is infringing upon their religious freedoms.

  4. This new law, sold to the public under the guise of public safety and “freedom from oppression,” does little to protect French citizens from legitimate terror threats and is nothing more than a denial of liberty and religious freedom. To many Muslims the burqa or niqab is as essential to their religious beliefs as a yarmulke is to a member of the Jewish community, a turban to a Sikh, etc.

    While this law may make French citizens feel safer in the short term, this blatantly prejudicial law will have short and long term ramifications which the French government has seemingly ignored or dismissed all together. By instituting laws that specifically target Muslims, the French, and other European nations for that matter, are doing nothing more than fanning the flames of Islamic extremism and perpetuating a now common trend in Europe of marginalizing Muslims who, for the most part, are decent, law abiding citizens. Shades of 1930’s Berlin if you ask me.

  5. It is surprising that such a liberal country would take this stance on religion. No matter what France’s public reasons are for implementing this law or how anyone feels about the Muslim religion, it seems to be a targeted attack on Muslim women. What France believes is liberating is actually creating more oppression as a byproduct, since this ban may spread to the rest of the European Union. There are many people who believe that the Muslim veil degrades women and places them in a position of inferiority, but nonetheless, it is an expression of their religion and they should have the right to publicly declare their beliefs. Whether that declaration is through a veil or another customary dress, France should not regulate this basic freedom.

  6. Clearly, there must be another way for France to deal with their security concerns without mandating a complete ban on veils. The U.S. guarantees a First Amendment right, which grants its citizens the right to believe in whatever religion one chooses. Additionally, this right implies to its citizens the freedom to express their religious beliefs through wearing a cross, a Star of David, a veil or any other religious symbols. Yet, the US like France still has a concern for secularism. But by allowing women to wear a veil as part of their religion does not endorse one religion over another. It would not mean that France is endorsing a public, government or state display of a particular religion. Instead, secularism is achieved by allowing all their citizens to wear whatever religious symbols that they choose to support.
    A concern for security cannot triumph the right to wear a veil unless such a ban could be justified in places where a face must be seen. For example, a ban on wearing veils would be reasonable at an airport, not at a café or strolling down the streets of France. Where is the evidence that this ban actually decreases violence in France? Instead, it has caused an uprising in France. If this law is limited to particular circumstances then security would clearly be understood as a proper objective. In fact, a ban on veils while riding on rides at an amusement park in Westchester County, New York was justified by the concern of safety. In this limited situation, the ban clearly protects the safety of individuals by preventing accidents such as the veil falling into the tracks of a ride. But, in France, this ban has no limit and can only be considered intrusive and not justified, especially since new violence has emerged in response to the ban.

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