The French ban on the veil is implementedPosted: April 11, 2011
On 11th April 2011 a ban on covering the face in public places came into full effect in France. The law effects both the genders, but is specifically aimed at the removal of niqabs, worn by Muslim women to cover their facial features. There are between five and six million Muslim people living in France, although it is believed that less than 2000 of them actually wear the niqab. The French President, Nicolas Sarkozy states that the law has been brought into place to secure the values of France, believing that niqabs undermine female dignity and are a breach of public security. When the votes were cast in Parliament last year, there was an enormous majority in favour of the ban with 335 votes to 1. The one opposing vote was made by Daniel Garrigue, who said, “To fight an extremist behavior, we risk slipping toward a totalitarian society”. And herein lies the problem, no matter what stance you take on the niqab or the veil morally, can you defend a decision in favour of human rights, when the law specifically removes human rights from certain individuals?
Women wearing the niqab may be arrested and taken to a police station to establish their identity, and could face fines of up to 150€. However, police may not forcibly remove the veil, and if a woman is taken to police station they may not detain her for more than four hours. There are, however, much stricter laws in place for anyone found to be who forcing a person to cover their face in public, a fine of 30 000€ may be imposed and a prison sentence of up to year, which may be double in the case of a child. The niqab is not obligatory in Islamic law, and although this is the first European country to ban it, it is a constant source of debate among Muslim scholars; it is banned in some Muslim schools, and outlawed entirely in Tunisia. The contention comes from a variety of beliefs as to what a woman’s awrah (her intimate parts) consists of, some believe that only the head and body need to be covered, and others beileve the awrah also includes the face and hands.
Following the instigation of the bans in France other European countries including Denmark, Italy, Spain and The Netherlands are considering implementing similar bans. Those visiting France will also be subject to the law and could be fined if they breach it. Many believe that this will have a damaging effect on the tourist industry particularly larger hotels who are regularly visited by Muslim guests wearing a veil. French citizens arrested on these charges may also be asked to partake in citizenship education in place of, or as well, as a fine. This is usually intended for non-citizens wishing to become legally and socially accepted in the country. In Saudi Arabia, women are not required by law to wear the niqab, however in many Saudi cities, they may be harrassed by the religious police if they do not cover their faces. This French law although prescribing the opposite action is using the same methods of indoctrination. The new law that prohibits anyone from forcing a person to cover their face against their wishes seems fair, although will be much harder to implement. However, fining the women seems to undermine that law, for if they are victims imprisoned within a veil, as Sarkozy has intimated then punishing them for this “crime” seems unfounded, and if they are not victims and wear the niqab as part of their own beliefs, then this is a law stigmatising the women. With regards to a ban for the sake of security; terrorism laws are already heavily infringing upon human rights, and in many European countries where the freedom of speech is supposed to be intrinsic within the law, civilians are finding some of their civil liberties being taken away from them. To censor somebody by forcing them to wear a veil or niqab or to insist that they do not is a crime against their liberty, to target and stigmatise one group of people is a crime against equality, and to suggest that this cultural difference is wrong and a threat to security is to deny the hand of fraternity. I believe in empowering women throughout the world, so that men and women may be equal and afforded all of the same opportunities. I think that the niqab and the burkha do stop women from interacting with others and can unfortunately section them off from other members of society, but where does Sarkozy imagine the women who decide to wear the niqab will go? To obey French law their only option is to remain at home. It is hard to justify enforcing the removal of a niqab condemning it as a form of fabric imprisonment if it will force women to remain in their homes where they will not be seen and can no longer be heard.
Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niq%C4%81b http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/12/world/europe/12france.html?_r=1 http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/14/world/europe/14burqa.html?_r=1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_ban_on_face_covering#cite_note-cnn20100914-1 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13031397 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/fast_track/9416248.stm