France readies for ban on full Islamic veil
The controversial French ban on wearing a full veil in public comes into force on April 11. The law, which forbids the wearing of full face coverings, would affect an estimated 2,000 Muslim women in France who wear the "niqab".
The controversial ban on wearing a full face veil in public places comes into force on April 11 in France.
Last week French Interior Minister Claude Gueant signed a circular, sent to all law enforcement agencies, “for instructions on carrying out identity checks and for the issuing of fines”.
According to the document, which was published by right-leaning daily newspaper Le Figaro, police officers do not have the right to forcibly remove a veil.
“Either the person wearing the veil removes it, or else that person is conducted to a police station so that their identity can be verified,” the circular instructs.
In no instance can a woman wearing a niqab be placed under arrest simply for wearing the full veil. But she can be held at a police station for up to four hours, held liable for a 150 euro fine and required to take a citizenship course.
Defining 'public spaces'
The circular also defines the public spaces where wearing a veil would be banned as all places open to the public, including parks, shops, cinemas, restaurants and public transport.
The face, however, can be covered in the home, in hotel rooms, on corporate premises, in private vehicles and at places of worship.
The law also stipulates that forcing someone to wear a veil, through “abuse of authority or power”, is a much more serious criminal offence, punishable by a prison sentence.
The legislation does not explicitly target Muslim women, instead banning any full face covering that masks one’s identity. A man could be similarly fined for wearing a ski mask in a restaurant or on a bus.
French Islam under the microscope
There are only about 2,000 women in France who wear the niqab facial veil (a burqa, in contrast, covers all of the body except the hands).
But the ban would also apply to foreign women visiting France as tourists, many of them big spenders on French haute couture from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.
The law comes into effect at a time when the role of Islam in France is once again under the microscope.
President Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party opens a debate Tuesday on the influence of Islamic practices, and Islam itself, on the strictly secular but traditionally Catholic country.
Critics believe that this new debate on secularism, like the law against wearing the veil, is a political ploy to win voters away from the far-right National Front, which has made gains while Sarkozy’s approval ratings plummet.