This short article examines the question of how the number of women wearing full-face veils in France is counted. At the beginning of the controversy, a study undertaken by the DCRI (Direction centrale du renseignement intérieur) for Le Monde counted 367 niqab-wearing women. This number according to the DCRI is an estimate. Several weeks later in the fall of 2009, the minister of the interior claimed there were 1900 such women, or approximately 0.03% of the population.
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.