Veiled threats in France over Islamic dress


Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

This week, France plunged into another bitterly divisive national debate on Muslim women’s clothing, reopening questions on how the country with western Europe’s biggest Muslim community integrates Islam into its secular republic. A parliamentary inquiry is to examine how many women in France wear full Islamic veils or niqab before a decision is made over possibly banning such garments in the street. More than 50 MPs from across the political spectrum have called for restrictions on full veils, called “degrading”, “submissive” and “coffins” by politicians. Yet the actual numbers of niqab wearers in France appears to be so small that TV news crews have struggled to find individuals to film. Muslim groups estimate that there are perhaps only a few hundred women fully covering themselves out of a Muslim population of over 5 million – often young French women, many of them converts.

That such a marginal issue can suddenly take centre stage in a country otherwise struggling with major issues of mass unemployment and protest over public sector reform shows how powerful the symbol of the headscarf and veil remains in France.

If men decided to join a religion that required playing dress-up like the pope, walking around with velvet slippers and swinging a incense brazier from the radio antenna of their mule – I think you’d get the same response from the officials of a nation that works more at being secular than are the critics from other purportedly secular nations. Hypocrites all.

The current initiative against full Islamic veils began in Venissieux, a leftwing area on the industrial outskirts of Lyon. Its communist mayor, André Gerin, led proposals for a clampdown, saying he saw increasing numbers of full veils in his constituency…

Gerin said women in niqab posed “concrete problems” in daily life. “We had an issue in a school where a headteacher at the end of the school day didn’t want to hand back two children to a phantom,” he said. Gerin has refused to conduct the town-hall wedding of a woman wearing niqab. Another woman wearing a full veil was refused social housing by a landlord in the area. The mayor said that when women haven’t removed their face covering, it has resulted in conflict with public officials who often felt insulted or under attack. But he denied stigmatising the wider Muslim population…

Two previous calls for a law restricting full veils have been left to gather dust. This time, the debate is gathering force.

In some nations, Jedi is becoming a significant minor religion – for whatever reason. Do I get to testify before a court of law wearing my Darth Vader helmet?

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