French police arrest two women wearing veils after burqa ban goes into effect
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
One day after France began enforcing a ban on the public wearing Islamic veils that cover the face, either a niqāb or a burqa, French police briefly detained two veiled women. The police later claimed that the women were arrested for taking part in an unauthorized protest, not because they were wearing veils.
The new law is hotly debated. The women were arrested while outside the famed Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, and may now face fines of up to $217 (150 euros), community service and/or a citizenship course under the law.
While the ban covers the burqa and the niqāb, it does not include the hijab or the chador. The hijab is a veil that leaves the face visible while covering the hair and neck, and the chador covers only the body.
The law has stirred much debate, both in France and around the globe. Those who oppose the new law say it limits freedom of speech and freedom of religion, while supporters claim that women are degraded by wearing veils and the law is intended to empower those women, as well as increase public security.
The French government, in defense of the ban, said that it was necessary because wearing veils falls short of the living standards in France and and makes women be of an lower status in a country where everybody is considered equal.
French Prime Minister Francois Fillon has said that the ban is consistent with the national values of France. “The French Republic lives in a bare-headed fashion,” he said in a statement published by a government newspaper.
The French government previously made efforts to accommodate Muslims in the country, including establishing a council dealing with the presence of Islam; however, according to Amer Sahar, a professor who studies the topic, some Muslims in the country say that they feel as though they are under assault by the government. She said that some are “resentful of the fact that they are not allowed to be both Muslim and French.”
The French government is also concerned with women and children who are forced to veil themselves. It has said that such an action is “a new form of enslavement that the republic cannot accept on its soil.” There is a fine of 30,000 euros (about $43,300) and a year in prison for forcing an adult to wear the niqāb or burqa. The fine is doubled for forcing a minor to wear the veils.
Activist Rachid Nekkaz auctioned one of his homes to provide money to pay the fine for any woman arrested under the law. “I would like to send a clear message to President Nicolas Sarkozy that we can do what we want. We have rules. We have a constitution and everyone has to respect it,” he said.
According to the French Constitutional Council, the law “conforms to the Constitution” because it does not limit the freedom of religion or excessively punish people for exercising that right in a place of worship.