Two-thirds of French people want a law limiting the use of face-covering Islamic veils such as the niqab and the burqa, with only a minority backing the government’s plan for a complete ban, a recent poll has shown. The TNS Sofres/Logica poll showed that 33 percent of French people want a complete ban, while a further 31 percent want a more narrow law applying only to certain public spaces.
The results of the survey of 950 people were roughly the same for men and women. Support for some kind of legal restriction on the full veil cut across age groups, professions and political affiliation, though it was stronger among right-wing voters — more than 80 percent of them favored a law. By opting for a complete ban, Sarkozy is taking a constitutional gamble since the practice of veiling oneself can be defended on the grounds of religious freedom.
A narrower law asking women to bare their faces in town halls or when they pick up their children from school would have been less legally risky, since it could have been justified as a security measure rather than a question of values.
A French Muslim woman has been fined for wearing a full-face veil while driving a car. Police in the western city of Nantes said the veil – which showed only her eyes – restricted her vision and could have caused an accident. The woman’s lawyer says they will appeal against the decision, which he described as a breach of human rights.
After stopping the 31-year-old woman – who has not been named – police asked her to raise her veil to confirm her identity, which she did. They then fined her 22 euros ($2), saying her clothing posed a “safety risk”. Her lawyer, Jean-Michel Pollono, said the woman’s field of vision was not obstructed and added that a veil was no different from a motorcycle helmet in terms of hindrance to vision. “Currently no law forbids the wearing of the niqab.” There is a developing story as to whether her husband is living in France legally and whether he has a polygamous marital arrangement.
This article in Le Devoir examines similarities between anti-niqab legislation in Quebec, France and Belgium. These countries articulate their positions differently: thus far, Belgium has proposed a more radical approach proposing a full ban for niqabs in all public spaces, while the proposed law 94 in Quebec suggests restrictions to public services. France has yet to fully articulate its legal position.
Quebec will refuse all government services, including education and non-emergency health care, to fully veiled Muslim women under legislation tabled yesterday in the National Assembly.
Jean Charest, the Liberal Premier, said the bill establishing guidelines for the accommodation of religious minorities is aimed at “drawing a line” to demonstrate that gender equality is a paramount Quebec value. The bill applies not only to government departments and Crown corporations but also to hospitals, schools, universities and daycares that receive funding from the province.
The proposed guidelines in Bill 94 follow an uproar this month over the expulsion of a niqab-wearing woman from French courses after she insisted that male students in her class not see her face. Quebec’s Immigration Department tracked her to a second college where she was studying French and had her expelled again because she would not remove her niqab, a veil that leaves open a slit for the eyes.
Quebec, which for more than three years has been grappling with the issue of accommodating religious differences, is the first province to take such a stance against the niqab and burqa. In Ontario, women wearing a full veil can make special arrangements to receive government services without exposing their faces to male bureaucrats.
Mr. Weinstock said Quebec is addressing head-on issues that are being ignored elsewhere in Canada. “This is a very good thing,” he said. “Whatever happens as a result of the debates in the National Assembly over this bill, and whatever the final form of this legislation is, we are having a very interesting societal debate here in Quebec that has to do with issues that are not specific to Quebec.”
A new type of warfare – albeit perfectly peaceful – has taken form in Quebec, as intellectuals and academics weigh in on the issue of accommodating religious minorities. The debate has been reignited recently with the “ niqab ” incident, in which a woman who refused to show her face to her language teacher and disrupted the class with her many demands was finally – after months of attempted compromise – expelled from French classes for immigrants.
On one side are the “pluralists,” who call for more openness to immigrants, and for what is called in French a “ laïcité ouverte ” (a secular regime that allows for some compromise with religious fundamentalists). The initiators of their manifesto, “for a pluralist Quebec,” are mostly professors of philosophy.
The authors of this second manifesto, eager to dissociate themselves from those who use the concept of secularism to cover up their dislike of the recent waves of Muslim immigration, argue that “ laïcité ” has always been part of Quebec history, an argument that is a considerable exaggeration.
The Flemish school board introduced a ban in September 2009 in the region’s Dutch-language public schools, along with a prohibition on the wearing of all religious symbols for pupils and teachers. Responding to a complaint by a Muslim student at a school in the northern town of Antwerp, Belgium’s state council — the highest authority on administrative matters — ordered “the suspension of the execution of this decision,” according to a statement.
Schools in Flanders that are financed by other Belgian communities — mostly Catholic schools run by municipalities — are not bound by the order. The veil in schools debate is also underway in Belgium’s other main communities, French-speaking Wallonia and the Brussels capital region.
Last week a Muslim mathematics teacher in a municipal school in the French-speaking industrial city of Charleroi won a legal battle to wear a veil in class, when an appeals court overturned a lower court decision. Meanwhile the Belgian federal government will begin debating a proposal to ban women from wearing the full-face niqab and burqa in public.
While French ministers like Eric Besson claim that a possible law against the burqa is a way to protect the dignity of women, others point to how it would remove practicing Muslim women’s dignity of choice. Denys de Bechillon points to how the notion of dignity is one of the most complicated to determine in contemporary legal matters. Moreover, legal scholars usually cannot determine whether it was forced upon her by her husband or her brother. Until now, there has been no legal text or position in France which claims that the face must be visible in the public sphere, except for identity cards or being stopped by police. It is unclear how the constitutional council would react should such a ban be put into place as no law like it has come before the courts.