The burqa has long been a controversial topic in France, but the subject has only gotten more heated since a bill was proposed last May that would prevent Muslim women from covering in public, even sparking acts of violence against veiled women. Now the Assembly, the lower house of the French Parliament, has overwhelmingly passed the bill, with a 335 to 1 vote. The bill is expected to pass the Senate in September.
The bill stipulates a 150-euro fine and/or a citizenship course as a punishment for wearing a face-covering veil. Forcing a woman to wear the niqab would be punishable by a year in prison or a 15,000-euro fine. The French government called the act “a new form of enslavement that the republic cannot accept on its soil.” If the bill passes and is signed into law, it will be the first national ban on the burqa in Europe.
The French public overwhelmingly supports the ban, according to a poll conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project last spring. Over 80 percent of the people polled would be in favor of the ban, a margin that was higher than other European countries but still reflective of the general enthusiasm for such a ban. Two out of three Americans, by contrast, disapproved of it.
Amnesty International was quick to condemn the Assembly’s vote. “A complete ban on the covering of the face would violate the rights to freedom of expression and religion of those women who wear the burqa or the niqab in public as an expression of their identity or beliefs,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s expert on discrimination in Europe, quoted in a CNN article. Muslims are about 6 percent of the French population, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, although the French government, in accordance with their laws on secularism and the state, does not keep such statistics.
I personally find the passage of the law to be a fairly blatant attack on a religious minority that happens to stand out among the French population because of their dress. Certainly, there are circumstances in which women may be forced to wear the burqa, but I don’t think that this is the motivation for the passage of the law – rather, the issue is alarm over perceived infiltration of French secular society. Indeed, some have pointed out that if men are truly bent on making their wives and daughters veil, this legislation will simply make it harder for women to circulate in society, or even attend school. And if this bill is signed into law, it will represent a dangerous precedent for the rest of Europe.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.