France has officially banned women from wearing full-face veils in public places, with a controversial new law coming into effect today, AFP says
Other European countries have drawn up bans on the burqa and the niqab but France – home to Europe’s biggest Muslim population – is the first to risk stirring social tensions by putting one into practice.
The law comes into effect at an already fraught moment in relations between the state and France’s Muslim minority, with President Nicolas Sarkozy accused of stigmatising Islam to win back votes from a resurgent far right.
French officials estimate that only about 2000 women, from a total Muslim population estimated at between four and six million, wear the full-face veils that are traditional in parts of Arabia and South Asia.
But many Muslims and rights watchdogs accuse the rightwing president of targeting one of France’s most vulnerable groups to signal to anti-immigration voters that he shares their fear that Islam is a threat to French culture.
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The law imposes a fine of 150 euros ($190). The person breaking the law can be asked to carry out public service duty as part of the punishment or as an alternative to the fine.
The law was passed in [September] but included a six-month period to inform people of the penalty before it went into effect.
Penalties for forcing a person to wear a burqa are part of the law, and they became effective immediately in October.
Forcing a woman to wear a niqab or a burqa is punishable by a year in prison and a 30,000 euro fine (about $43,400). Forcing a minor to do the same thing is punishable by two years in prison and a fine of 60,000 euros.
The government has called this coercion “a new form of enslavement that the republic cannot accept on its soil.”
The practice has sparked a debate over religious freedom. The French Constitutional Council said the law did not impose disproportionate punishments or prevent the free exercise of religion in a place of worship, finding therefore that “the law conforms to the Constitution.”
“Given the damage it produces on those rules which allow the life in community, ensure the dignity of the person and equality between sexes, this practice, even if it is voluntary, cannot be tolerated in any public place,” the French government said when it sent the measure to parliament in May of last year.
Lawmakers have also cited security reasons for forbidding people from covering their faces in public.
French people backed the ban by a margin of more than four to one, the Pew Global Attitudes Project found in a survey last year.
There is nothing in the Qu’ran that prescribed full face veils like the Burqa and the Niqab. In a number of Muslim countries full face veils are either frowned upon or banned — the later more of then not only in public buildings and schools.
Many Europeans feel that by wearing full face veils Muslim women ostracize themselves from society.
In addition, some Muslim men have forced their wives to wear veils. There are fears that a ban on wearing veils in public may lead some Muslim men to forbid their wives from leaving their homes.
The Quran does not prescribed full face coverings. Even if it did, religious freedom has its limits.
For instance, civilized countries also prohibit Muslims from applying Sharia (Islamic law) punishments such as amputation of hands and/or feet, whippings, stonings and other barbaric behavior.
Many Western countries already have security laws banning full face coverings. In our opinion these laws should extend to the Burqa and the Niqab.
While Muslims should be welcome to practice their religion, religious practices that have a significant negative impact on a country’s social or cultural fabric should be discouraged or banned.