French parliament adopts ban on full-face veil

Published: September 15, 2010
French parliament passed a law 
prohibiting wearing a full-face veil in public. PHOTO: REUTERS

French parliament passed a law prohibiting wearing a full-face veil in public. PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS: French parliament passed a law Tuesday prohibiting wearing a full-face veil in public, meaning a ban will come into force early next year if it is not overturned by senior judges.

The Senate passed the bill by 246 votes to one and, having already cleared the lower house in July, the bill will now be reviewed by the Constitutional Council, which has a month to confirm its legality.

The text makes no mention of Islam, but President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government promoted the law as a means to protect women from being forced to wear Muslim full-face veils such as the burqa or the niqab.

Once in force, the law provides for a six-month period of “education” to explain to women already wearing a face veil that they face arrest and a fine if they continue to do so in any public space.

A woman who chooses to defy the ban will receive a fine of 150 euros (195 dollars) or a course of citizenship lessons. A man who forces a woman to go veiled will be fined 30,000 euros and serve a jail term.

“This is not about security or religion, but respecting our republican principles,” Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie declared before the vote.

“France, land of secularism, guarantees respect for all religions (but) hiding the face under a face-covering veil is against public social order, whether it is forced or voluntary,” she said.

Some other European countries are mulling similar bans, but critics of the law in its proposed form believe it is too broadly framed and that it will eventually be overturned as unconstitutional and discriminatory.

Two senior lawmakers from Sarkozy’s UMP ruling party said the new law should go before the Constitutional Council to ensure that it is in full conformity with France’s constitution.

“This law has been the subject of long and complex debates on the essential principles that form the basis of our republican pact,” Bernard Accoyer and Gerard Larcher said in a statement.

The vote comes when some of France’s other policies – especially a drive to round up and expel Roma Gypsies – have led to accusation of racism, and the tough new law is expected to draw further criticism from rights groups.

The policy also has the rare distinction of being condemned in advance by both the United States and al Qaeda, with both US President Barack Obama and militant Ayman al-Zawahiri criticising it as an insult to Muslims.

While Sarkozy’s determination to halt what some here see as the spread of the use of the niqab won enough votes in parliament, opponents argue it breaches French and European human rights legislation.

The bill defines public space very broadly, including not just government buildings and public transport, but all streets, markets and thoroughfares, private businesses and entertainment venues.

Similar laws are pending in Belgium, Spain and some Italian municipalities, but the ban is particularly sensitive in France, whose often rundown city suburbs are home to Europe’s biggest Muslim minority.

Critics say the law exploits a non-problem – only about 1,900 women among France’s five to six million Muslims wear a full veil – and panders to anti-Muslim sentiment while distracting from France’s economic woes.

Most French Muslims come from France’s former colonies in North and West Africa, where wearing the veil is rare, rather than from the Arabian peninsula or Pakistan, where niqabs and burqas are a cultural tradition.

Some Muslim leaders say they support steps to discourage women from wearing the full veil, but that a law would unfairly stigmatise a vulnerable group.

Mindful that a law with a broad scope might be struck down by the European Court of Human Rights, which protects religious freedoms, Sarkozy’s own ruling party asked for the text to be examined by the Constitutional Council.

Nevertheless, the ban enjoys broad popular support. An international poll conducted in April and May by the Washington-based Pew Research Center found that more than eight in 10 French voters supported a ban.

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Reader Comments (6)

  • Dr. Tariq Hassan
    Sep 15, 2010 - 12:57PM

    The French have thrown the baby out with the bathwater! Banning the burqa tantamounts to taking away the fundamental freedoms to choose one’s life style and privacy. It would have been more appropriate to merely prohibit a person from forcing women to wear veils. Prohibition should not have been extended to the voluntary adornment of veils—howsoever idiotic the practice may be in my view. Why has no one ever objected to the nuns wearing the headdress. Do you think that the French Senate would in equal measure ever even consider prohibiting the headdress worn by nuns! There is no empirical evidence that wearing veils has done anyone any harm (other than probably those who are forced to wear them). But then cigarette smoking is equally harmful for not only the smokers but others as well. Would the French Senate ever consider banning tobacco? No, certainly not. In any event, the ban while seeking to protect women from being forced to wear a veil in actual fact forces them not to wear a veil even if they so desire. The law merely transfers risk to those who are already oppressed. Woman, thy fate is continued oppression!Recommend

  • Zara
    Sep 15, 2010 - 2:30PM

    Dr. Tariq Hassan: I’ve noted several comments on this issue about how France would never consider banning the headdress worn by nuns. I think you miss the point here – nuns don’t cover their faces, only their heads. In France, the full-face veil is banned, but it is not forbidden for a woman to cover her head, regardless of whether she is Muslim, Christian or atheist.

    The point of the ban is not a personal attack on Muslims. It is a disapproval of covering the entire face so that the person cannot be visibly recognised, which is a security threat and is socially isolating. And there is evidence aplenty to vouch for this. You wouldn’t allow people to walk into public areas, banks, shops etc with a mask on. Wearing a full-face veil presents the same issue. And it is hardly comparable to banning tobacco, which is a completely irrelevant issue. Recommend

  • aaron ali
    Sep 16, 2010 - 5:46AM


  • Sidra
    Sep 16, 2010 - 10:26AM

    Hey Im Muslim but I think this ban is within their rights. Wearing Niqab is not farz and while one could argue that this reduces their liberties, France also has laws against full nudity. Both full nudity and extreme full coverage pose security risks. Muslims are quick to say anything is an attack on Muslims…first let’s look at our own country. If a lady here wears shorts, she would be jeered and admonished by police. We don’t permit others to practice their religion freely. While other countries should not fall as “low” as us in this regard, if they really hated scarves, they could have banned the hijab outright.Recommend

  • Husyan
    Sep 17, 2010 - 6:38AM

    though i disagree with burka as it is said to be not part of islam but France shouldn’t have done that..Recommend

  • Ashutosh
    Sep 17, 2010 - 9:14PM

    Without arguing in favor or against Burka, I will like to tell that not all traditions or religious believes are correct or good. We should be able to adopt the good practices of other societies and cultures and curbing & shunning the ills in our own society. These should be preferably be done through awareness and if need be through a legislation .
    The democratic rights, the human rights, environment friendly practices, equality, fairness and justice should be the guiding principle to judge what is good for the society and what is not. Recommend

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