Blogosphere Reaction to the French Parliament Passing a Ban on Muslim Full-Face Veils

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According to the BBC, today the French lower house of parliament passed a ban on public wearing of the full-face veil (worn most commonly by Muslim women). This is not a ban on the head scarf, nor the floor-length body covering, but the actual veil over the face. The National Assembly has 557 seated representatives, but the vote was 335 for and only one against. Most members of the main opposition group, the French Socialist party, refrained from voting.

Illustration of women wearing full Islamic veil ( Burka or Niqab ) on Avenue Montaigne in Paris, France on July 7, 2010 as France may ban women from wearing burka in public, a law banning face-covering in public places will be submitted to parliament. Photo by ABACAPRESS.COM Photo via Newscom

This is a ban that cannot take effect until approved by the French Senate in September followed by the French Constitutional Council, a watchdog group that makes sure that laws are constitutional. Beyond that, it may still be challenged by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, where decisions are binding.

According to the Arab News, French Muslim businessman (and past political candidate), Rachid Nekkaz, said he would set up a one-million euro fund to help women pay any fines imposed them under the new ban and has started an organization called "Hands Off My Constitution."

There are only a fraction of French Muslim of women who wear this face veil. The New York Times estimates that this ruling would effect 1,900 women (2/3 of whom are French citizens) out of over five million Muslim women in France. France has Europe's largest Muslim population.

There are a large variety of body/face/head coverings worn by some Muslim women. It is important to be clear about which ones are and are not covered by this legislation.
To make the terms clear ... (Thanks to The BBC that also illustrates these garments.)

Garments Not Affected by French Legislation

1. The Hijab -- The headscarf. It covers the head, not the face, and can come in many colors.
2. The Alimira -- Similar in function to the Hijab, it is a tube-shaped scarf that fits over the head covering a close-fitting cap which covers the hair. The face is uncovered.
3. The Shayla -- This is a longer rectangular scarf that wraps over the head and is held in place at the shoulder. The face is uncovered.
4. The Kimar -- This is a like a short cape fitting over the head and neck and shoulders that reaches down to the waist. The face is uncovered.
5. The Chador -- This is a full body covering that may also have a headscarf. The face is uncovered.

Garments Affected By the Legislation

1. Niquab -- This is the veil that covers the lower part of the face, leaving only the eyes publicly visible. It is always worn with a headscarf/covering. In some countries the term is used interchangeably with Burka (see below).
2. Burka -- This is total coverage. Every part of the body and head are concealed with the exception of a mesh panel over the eyes from which the woman can see outwards.

The New York Times reported before the bill passed :

The draft bill says that “no one can, in the public space, wear clothing intended to hide the face.” The bill also defines “public space” broadly, including streets, markets and private businesses, as well as government buildings and public transport.
A fine of $190 will be imposed on those wearing the full facial veil, and anyone who forces a woman to wear such a veil will be punished by a fine up to $38,000 and a year in jail, doubled if the victim is a minor.

Michele Alliot-Marie, French justice minister, is widely quoted as saying that this bill was not an attempt at "stigmatising or singling out a religion." [ed. note: What!?]

This ban is reported to have the approval of 80 percent of French voters. People supporting it in France range from those who believe it is not in harmony with French values to have veils to those who feel that the ban will not allow a certain sort of fundamentalist Islam to take hold to those who feel that the veil is anti-feminist. Those who support the ban also say it is safer to cross streets and drive without veils. They go on to say that whenever a group of people decides to live somewhere, they take on the traditions of the place they live; if they moved to a pace where the women wore scarves, they would wear scarves. They also point to an earlier ban on the wearing of ANY religious identification in schools -- veils, scarves, crucifixes, yarmulkes.

Islam in Europe says that the veil has caused issues for doctors in France.

People opposing it say that it is anti-Muslim, that it denigrates free expression, and that it edges on totalitarianism.

Blogosphere Reactions to the French Ban on Muslim Full-Face Veils

Yael of OlehGirl.com points out the situation with other countries:

"Well, both Spain and Italy are in the process of passing legislation to ban the burqa and anything else that covers the face in public...the Swiss are also lining up ...One canton has already done so...A couple of months ago in Norway, the Progress Party proposed a ban on the burqa and hijab but it hasn’t been voted on yet... The Netherlands is considering a ban. Denmark is in the process of drawing up legislation and already requires that no veil or scarf be worn in certain professions (e.g., judges)."

The Lion (who is a woman) at Ludo and the Lion says:

..a ban on Muslim veils. Not all veils, mind you – just Muslim veils. Will cancer patients be prohibited from wearing masks? No. Will a deformed individual be forced to go out unshielded from prying eye? No. Will Halloween masks be banned? No...
They claim it is to protect the women. That the veils are inconsistent with France’s views on equality... These women chose to practice their faith, they chose to wear the veil. And France has all but taken that choice away from them. Where is the equality now? Where is the freedom of religion?

KimmieKetz at Giddy Stratosphere says:

I understand the need for security in some situations where seeing the face to identify an individual would be necessary, but special measures could be taken in those situations that are sensitive to personal or religious requests that keep both security and dignity. An out-right ban is ludicrous.

In Toronto, RedBedHead poses a series of worthy and articulate arguments against the ban, saying :

This has nothing to do with women's dignity and everything to do with pandering to the far right and to sowing divisions at a time of heightened anger over French austerity plans. At the end of June there was a nationwide general strike and over 200 demonstrations, mobilizing some 2 million people, across France against plans to raise the retirement age. Deflecting people's anger onto immigrants has served the French ruling class well in the past - and the Nazis.

Allison at The Reflective Well acknowledges the need for visibility for security reasons, but adds:

My gut reaction is that I don’t feel comfortable with someone walking the streets whose face I cannot see. But when it gets cold in Wisconsin and Maine and people walk the streets in enormous coats and hats and have their faces covered with scarves, we are perfectly fine with that. We as a culture understand that. And why should my discomfort affect someone else’s wardrobe?

What is your opinion about the ban? Does it ever make sense? Is there a fair way to do it?

~~ Contributing Editor, Mata H. also blogs right along at Time's Fool

Recent Posts by Mata H

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