France: The burka ban comes into force

Many Frenchmen doubt the National Assembly's law against the covering of the face while in public will be fully enforced.

The much-debated ban on the full-face veil is finally here, said Paris’s Le Post in an editorial, and now France has to figure out how to enforce it. Last summer, the National Assembly passed the law, which forbids the covering of the face while in public. This week, soon after it went into effect, two women were arrested at a protest against the law—not for wearing veils, but for protesting without a permit. Don’t expect a roundup of the some 2,000 Muslim women in France who wear the niqab, a face veil with a slit for the eyes (almost no one here wears the burka, a full-body covering). Emmanuel Roux, the head of the Union of Police Commissioners, said the law was likely to be “infinitely little applied.” If he met a veiled woman in public, Roux said, he would not arrest or fine her, but would “try to convince her” to remove the garment. If she refused, he would “call the prosecutor and ask him what to do.”

And there’s the problem with this ban, said Olivier Picard in the Strasbourg Dernières Nouvelles d’Alsace. Lawmakers didn’t spell out enforcement measures, and most police are reluctant to approach and ticket a veiled woman who is simply going about her shopping. And while they tried to craft the law so as not to demonize Muslims—the niqab is not mentioned by name; all face coverings, including anarchists’ black masks, are banned—the effect will probably be “to reinforce Islamophobic sentiment against other, perfectly legal Muslim head scarves,” such as the hijab. Muslim women who wear the hijab say they have been harassed much more since the law against the niqab was passed.

Ironically, the French were trying to promote Muslim women’s rights, said Birgit Holzer in the Bonn, Germany, General-Anzeiger. The law says that women who wear the veil will only be fined, while men who force their wives and daughters to do so can be jailed. Even so, human-rights groups say, the net effect is to stigmatize those few Muslim women who wear the veil. Worse, many believe that only poor women in the slums on the outskirts of Paris will be targeted. Saudi women flaunting their wealth in shops on the Champs-Élysées are unlikely to be confronted.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

What’s wrong with stigmatizing veiled women? asked Leo McKinstry in the London Express. It’s a shame that Britain lacks “the backbone to uphold the values of Western civilization against the onward march of Muslim fundamentalism.” We are so afraid of being branded racist that we condone the worst kind of sexism. In some Muslim schools in Britain, young girls are actually forced to wear the niqab. Thank goodness at least the French have the courage to reject “the self-destructive dogma of diversity” and condemn the “barbaric tradition” of incarcerating women “within mobile prisons.”

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.