By Christina Berger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
PARIS, France – The French Senate passed a bill this week banning Muslim full-face veils in public. The bill passed 246 to 1, and was passed by the lower house of France’s parliament in July. The ban will be implemented in six months unless it is ruled unconstitutional. The language of of the bill was carefully set so as to survive a constitutional challenge; the words “women” and “Muslim” are not mentioned in the bill’s articles, though it has widely been acknowledged that the ban will primarily affect about 2,000 Muslim women in France.
Some believe the main issue in the controversial bill is religion. Supporters of the ban believe allowing the full-face Muslim veil in public is contrary to ideals of secularism in France. Opponents of the ban believe it is indicative of islamophobia.
Raphael Liogier, the head of the Observatory of the Religious in Aix-en-Provence, told the Associated Press that the ban “will officialize Islamophobia” at a time when Muslims in France are already a hate target. ”With the identity crisis that France has today, the scapegoat is the Muslim,” he said.
Others believe the bill is a matter of women’s rights. Supporters of the ban believe it is a move that will help liberate oppressed women. Sihem Habchi, president of NPNS, said to the Associated Press Television News, ”How can we allow the burqa here and at the same time fight the Taliban and all the fundamentalist groups across the world?” She went on to say that she’s Muslim and she shouldn’t have to disappear because she’s a woman.
Opponents of the bill who agree that the issue is a matter of women’s rights, make the argument that it’s about the right to choose. M’hammed Henniche, the secretary-general of the Union of Muslim Associations in the Seine-Saint-Denis district north of Paris, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that women should be not be told what to wear. “We don’t have the right to forbid women from wearing the full veil. We must always be on the woman’s side. We mustn’t treat a woman like a child,” he said.
If the bill’s legality is upheld by France’s Constitutional Council, wearing a full-face veil in public could result in fines of 150 euros for women and 30,000 euros for any men who force their wives to wear a full-face veil. Some women potentially affected by the ban have vowed to either stay at home so as not show their face in public or if fined to bring the issue to the European Court of Human Rights.
For more information, please see:
CNN – French Senate approves burqa ban – 15 September 2010
BBC – French Senate votes to ban Islamic full veil in public – 14 September 2010
NEW YORK TIMES – French Senate Passes Ban on Full Muslim Veils – 14 September 2010
RADIO FREE EUROPE – French Senate Votes to Ban Full-Face Veils – 14 September 2010