London, UK, May 21, 2010 – On Wednesday 19th May, Nicolas Sarkozy’s cabinet approved a bill to ban the niqab from public life. If passed by parliament, it will create a new offence of “incitement to cover the face for reasons of gender” where those wearing the face veil will face a fine of 150 Euros or be forced to take lessons on the values of French citizenship.
President Sarkozy gave his full backing to a total ban saying, “We are an old nation united around a certain idea of human dignity, and in particular of a woman’s dignity, around a certain idea of how to live together. The full veil that hides the face completely is an attack on those values,…. Citizenship has to be lived with an uncovered face.” Last week, the French parliament adopted a formal resolution, condemning the niqab as “an affront to the nation’s values of dignity and equality.”
The highly charged debates around the face veil have stoked racial tensions in the country causing Muslim graves to be desecrated, a mosque and Muslim shop to be shot at, and increased harassment of Muslim women – including a recent case where a niqab was torn off the face of a Muslim woman following a physical confrontation that began with derogatory remarks being levelled at her by a passerby.
Dr. Nazreen Nawaz, women’s media representative of Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain commented, “By backing this bill, the French President and cabinet have effectively given their rubber stamp to stigmatising the Muslim community in the name of secular values. This xenophobic, divisive piece of legislation will do nothing but throw fuel on the fire of racial tensions between communities. These politicians are playing politics with their communities, competing in anti-Islamic rhetoric and policies to curry favour amongst their far-right electorate, regardless of its detriment to society. The cut-throat nature of secular politics is clear for all to see, where politicians seem more than willing to use the Muslim woman as political fodder to feed their public rankings. The alienation of Muslims and a divided society appears to be acceptable collateral damage to bag a few extra votes. Where will it stop? The general public should be extremely wary about the dangerous direction in which Western governments seem to be taking their countries.”
“This secular fundamentalist ideology seems adamant, through bans and forced assimilation, to eliminate any trace of opinions from society that may even remotely differ from its extreme view of life. It is not only Muslims and Islam that have borne the brunt of its pernicious philosophy but religion in general that has become a pariah in many secular societies. It speaks volumes about any ideology that cannot accommodate varied religious views within society or feels the need to use bully-boy tactics rather than strength of argument to convince its citizens of its values. What does it say about the fragility of secular liberal values when they feel threatened by a handful of harmless women and where simply adhering to your religious dress can land you a fine?”
“Women forced to attend lessons on the values of French citizenship should presumably be taught about the intolerance of an ideology that teaches contempt for religion; where values of liberty, equality, and fraternity are exclusive to those who adopt the secular belief; that the French view of the woman’s dignity is to criminalise her for her religious dress; and that freedom extends to the right to exploit women through pornography and prostitution but not to the right for a woman to follow her religious convictions free from harassment.”
“Rather than hide behind the veil, why do the French and Belgium governments not show some back-bone and encourage a real debate as to why so many Muslim women are rejecting secular values and adopting Islam as their identity? Or is the idea of thinking women, intellectually convinced by an ideology other than Western liberalism just too hard a concept to stomach?”