Breaking News: France imposes a fine on full-face Islamic veils in public

Yesterday, the French government decided to impose a $185 fine on women who wear a full-face Islamic veil in public. According to the Washington Post:

President Nicolas Sarkozy said his government was forwarding the legislation to parliament because it had a “moral responsibility” to uphold traditional European values in the face of an increasingly visible Muslim population, estimated at more than 5 million, the largest in Western Europe. He called the course chosen by his government “demanding” but “just,” and he said the law was not intended to stigmatize Muslims.

Not intended to stigmatize? Tell that to one of only 2,000 women in a country of 64 million inhabitants who don the burqa, as it’s called in Afghanistan, or the niqab, as it’s called in North Africa. Tell that to the woman who, a year from now, when the law goes into effect, suffers this series of potential indignities:

It would give police the right to demand that women lift their veils to identify themselves. If they refused, police could hold them for up to four hours for an identity check. If cited for wearing the veil, women would be referred to a prosecutor, who could fine them, force them to attend “citizenship classes” or both.

This is a big ol’ dish of xenophobia, with sexism and religious persecution on the side. Controlling what a small minority of women wear and how they choose to incorporate religious practices into their daily lives is unacceptable. Seems like the only “traditional European values” that Sarkozy is upholding are intolerance and fear of the other.

Join the Conversation

  • Jessica Lee

    All of this stuff that France is doing reminds me of what Ataturk did when Turkey was no longer the Ottoman Empire and started becoming the Republic of Turkey. Religious attire was banned in order to secularize the country. I think that a lot of more secular countries think that by doing such actions, they are making the country more liberal, but they’re just infringing on people’s personal right to freedom of religion. It’s almost (or just as, depending on how you see it) as forcing women to wear burqas. The opposite of theocracy isn’t the complete banning of religious expression, but rather the freedom for everybody to practice their religion freely without imposing it on anyone else.
    All this coming from an evil Atheist. :P

  • Sunil

    I disagree. I’m with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown on this issue – she’s written about it here and here.

  • ronin

    One of the purposes of government is to uphold the lawful organization of society. This organization depends, perhaps unduly so, upon the identification of each person. Accepting this purpose, what is the respectful and just mixture of religious devotion and demands of the state?
    I’m not sure. On the one hand I accept a government’s right to know who its citizens are. And on the other, the government has no place interfering with religious expression.
    …except when that expression disturbs the running of the state?

  • DeafBrownTrash

    “freedom,” my fucking ass.
    now I’m tempted to start calling French Fries “freedom fries” in order to mock the French government.

  • cattrack2

    Islamophobia is alive & well in France. Thank God we have a Bill of Rights that prevents this sort of thing. This will only radicalize European Muslims who will, rightly, perceive this action as a persecution of their religious rights. Why not just bring back Inquisition tactics & make them forswear Islam???
    I think the reason the US has had so little homegrown Islamic terrorism is because we actually have provided a path for Muslim-Americans to assimilate in the economic & religious mainstream of society. As we speak a mosque is being built on Ground Zero & it will open on 9/11 2011. Meanwhile Switzerland is banning the erection of minarets, and France treats its Muslims like the “post-modern slaves” they think them to be. America is certainly not perfect, but American-Muslims know that they will have a chance to succeed in America far greater than any chance they’d get in Europe…including Turkey for that matter.

  • battle angel alita

    the worst thing is Nicolas Sarkozy is doing this under the banner of “womens rights”. this is the same president who, only a month ago, gave a personal letter to President Obama demanding the release of roman polanski, a man who drugged and raped a 13 yr old girl. this man obviously does not give a fuck about womens rights but is using this as a way to propegate xenophobia. what a coward.

  • Jessica Lee

    I can see where she’s coming from, but it comes down to personal choice. If you disagree with the burqa, then you don’t have to wear it. Why prohibit someone else from wearing a veil just because you disagree with it? I disagree with religion for the most part, but I would never tell someone what they can’t or can do personally with their religion, because it’s not my place to tell them what to do (as long as they’re not forcing it on me or anyone else, of course).

  • BackOfBusEleven

    I don’t think this applies here, because the police don’t have to know who’s who when someone is walking down the street. If it’s Halloween, the police don’t tell trick-or-treaters to remove their masks for identification, unless they’re doing something illegal. If it’s cold outside, the police don’t pick people out to remove their scarves or ski masks, unless they’re doing something illegal. A woman walking down the street wearing a burqa isn’t threatening the state’s idea of who that person is. People can walk freely down the street with clothing over their faces. This is simple xenophobia and nosiness.


    I have a few (male) friends who tell me that being a feminist I should be all for women power and banning the burqa. I always respond by asking how legislating what people can wear is in any way a feminist thought. How can people say anything bad about countries where wearing a veil is mandatory when they don’t allow freedom even in their own country? Can’t have it both ways!

  • Comrade Kevin

    Again, this caters a fear among many in France that immigration is watering down “authentic” French culture and will soon overtake it altogether. This is a country which has always taken a pride in its own accomplishments and uniqueness to a nearly ludicrous degree, to the point that it has tolerated much mediocrity in the arts and in culture, provided, of course, that it was proudly French.
    All politics is local, and this is where it starts, though the repercussions, as has been noted, go well beyond the borders of the nation.

  • supremepizza

    Even if in some case the burqa/niqab is forced on some women, government oppression on all 2000 women or so who wear it is far worse than the private oppression of those women who wish not to. Undoubtedly some women are being forced to wear the burqa by their husband. But a woman in France can divorce her husband. She can’t divorce France.
    Government oppression of a religious group is as heinous as government oppression of women and minorities. This will only radicalize European Muslims.

  • supremepizza

    “This organization depends, perhaps unduly so, upon the identification of each person.”
    Ever hear of Halloween?
    In limited, specific instances sure the government needs to identify women. As a general rule tho if she’s just walking down the street minding her business, she should be left the hell alone.

  • Sandi

    If a woman is being forced to wear this garment by her patriarchal male relative, how in the world does a law that essentially forces her to stay home—or fear reprisal either from her family or from the government—serve her cause?

  • Sandi

    This would hold water if they were also banning ski masks.

  • ronin

    I love that both of y’all cited Halloween. Very cool and apt. (And yes, have heard of and an exuberant participant.)
    I suppose the question then becomes the implication of hiding one’s face. For Halloween or any other instance, the hiding of one’s face is implicitly temporary. With the burqa or niqab, permanence is implied outside of the home. However, that argument devolves into pettiness that essentially serves no purpose.
    What is interesting piggybacks what BackOfBusEleven said in that identification is only necessary in the advent of criminality. Ignoring the ludicrous (yet possibly real) situation of the burqa or niqab being illegal, what are the allowances for identification during criminal inquiries? We know that women wearing the burqa/niqab are allowed a private screening with a female authority figure when passing through customs. Why can’t the same occur in the criminal proceedings I’m theorizing? Obviously there are efficiency issues. But surely the French aren’t so desperate for efficiency that they’ll discriminate to achieve it?
    So, yeah, xenophobia abides as it seems that any argument against the burqa/niqab is ideological (and thus personal) in nature. Ours is not to legislate ideology. And just because we can sure as fuck doesn’t mean we should.
    (sorry if that was rambling, I was having a wee internal discussion.)

  • Captiver

    I’m surprised at Cattrack2’s rosy view of the U.S. (“We actually have provided a path for Muslim-Americans to assimilate in the economic & religious mainstream of society”) compared with yucky old Europe (“Islamophobia is alive & well in France”). (I live in Europe.) As soon as the U.S. perceives a “threat” from Muslims, it displays at least as much Islamophobia as any other predominantly Western nation. And look at the treatment of Hispanics, who are perceived to be an economic threat. Other differences include the fact that Muslims make up around 7% of the French population, compared with around 3-4% in the U.S. I’m actually on-the-fence on this issue. It’s the first time as a feminist that I haven’t fallen into line with mainstream feminist opinion (for want of a better phrase). It’s not as clear and obvious to me as it is to feminists with whom I usually agree 110%. Which I spend no small amount of time examining. I don’t think the Halloween example is comparable (once a year, etc. etc.). So let me throw in one that might also fall prey to the same critique: What about the fact that the state already regulates our dress code in terms of things like nudity, what we can and cannot show in public (no breasts, e.g.). I for one would rather it not regulate this either; i.e. that people should be able to walk around naked as jay-birds if they so choose and aren’t at risk of catching cold. Given that it is already in the business of controlling apparel, then why not apparel that, as Alibhai-Brown says, is “more a statement about the position of women and the threat of men who apparently cannot control themselves if they see a woman’s face, hair, hand or ankles, than an item of clothing.” It has been instructive for me to be at least possibly on the “other” side of a feminist issue and to realize that the “it’s so obvious, you’re a racist and not a feminist if you don’t oppose this” attitude now applies to me.

  • Dena

    This really irritates me. I feel that as affluent, western democracies we sometimes feel that we can define what “freedom” really is. I see banning full-face Islamic veils in public as oppressive as many believe burqas and what-have-you are to women in many of these Islamic countries.
    I’m currently in Denmark, which has a fairly large Muslim immigrant community. I’ve been interviewing many of them about their experiences here and the subject of burqas has often come up, specifically in reference to France. Many of these immigrants have expressed to me that others view their veils as oppressive to women, but a lot of them hold it as symbolic of their culture and pride. Many of them CHOSE to wear these veils–to a lot of them, veiling is something they view as significant, not oppressive.
    I think it’s high time that our democracies–while we may see veiling as oppressive–work towards letting people chose what they want to wear. If they want to wear veils, let them; if they feel veils are oppressive, they don’t have to. Banning veils is not the answer. But this does seem extremely xenophobic–what France is doing. It’s sickening.

  • Jake N.

    The difference between burqa and niqab is not, as the original post says, a regional language variation. They are two related but completely different articles of clothing. The burqa has a mesh which covers the whole face, while the niqab has a slit which shows the eyes. Part of the reason why the debate around this is so frustrating is because those leading the discussion––politicians, members of the media––don’t take the five seconds to learn about these garments.

  • cattrack2

    “I’m surprised at Cattrack2’s rosy view of the U.S. …As soon as the U.S. perceives a “threat” from Muslims, it displays at least as much Islamophobia as any other predominantly Western nation. And look at the treatment of Hispanics, who are perceived to be an economic threat.”
    Really? The US has banned the burqa (France)? The US has banned building minarets (Switzerland)? US Senators have banned constituents from visiting them in full veils (Britain)?
    I’ve traveled Europe extensively and have lived in Francophone Africa. I made the comments I did because, as a black American, I was often thought to be Muslim. When I would eventually inform them that I was American my treatment would quickly & dramatically improve. This is 1st hand knowledge.
    Being black I obviously don’t have a rosy view of race relations in America. But I recognize that every country is racist against some other ethnic group, just not every other ethnic group. Here I’m talking specifically of European Muslims. As a black American I can get on very well in France, but I can’t as a black Muslim. (One word makes all the difference).
    French Muslims rioted violently in 2005 because, in addition to facing discrimination, they also faced an economy that offered them nothing better than welfare & public housing. In the US our 1st Amendment gives them the ability to practice their faith, while our economic system gives them the opportunity to earn a good living. Give someone a stake in society and they will assimilate in that society. Treat them like outsiders & they won’t. Its that simple.
    “…people should be able to walk around naked as jay-birds…”
    If you can’t figure out why preventing someone from wearing a veil is completely different than forcing me to look at someone’s cock or your vajayjay I can’t help you.

  • kandela

    I don’t know. This issue seems to come down to whether we should let governments tell women what they can’t wear, or whether we should let a patriarchal religion tell women what they have to wear. They are both sucky choices.
    I’m leaning toward a view that says government should promote freedom of choice but there is a precedent for the other choice that definitely freed women from an oppression. Foot binding was ended by a government ban that was rigorously enforced. The women in many villages where it was common practice wanted to continue the custom. Now, I doubt you would find too many women who feel the same way, but while the practice was part of the culture that wasn’t the case. That’s the influence of culture and societal conditioning. If governments hadn’t banned foot binging it would still be practised in parts of Asia today, more women having been indoctrinated into the practice.

  • MarissaAO

    Clearly, what the burqa, niqab, and hijab signify are not pro-woman sentiments. But if feminism is about respecting women, and their personal choices, then I could not say that it is feminist to support the ban. Many Muslim women choose to wear such garments. They engage with their religion, and what it means for themselves. They assign new meaning to old practices.
    This photo is a great illustration of that point. In an Islamophobic society, wearing religious garb may be just as much about group identification and defiance of the discrimination directed towards one’s group than anything else.

  • bradley

    Sarkozy, like many statists, can’t seem to understand the concept of upholding values separate from forcing others to practice them.

  • allegra

    I know, I recall that the conservative party there recently sponsored some sort of public debates on “What does it mean to French?” I was like … Chrissakes, here we go again. When you ask such a broad, open-ended, pseudo-patriotic question like that of the public, you’re not going to get the nice, idealistic answers like “intelligence” or “bravery” (perhaps less so in their case, ha). What you’re going to get is all the racist morons crawling out of the woodwork to voice their ignorant stupidity, and everyone’s supposed to listen to them politely and nod and take them seriously. Ridiculous.

  • BackOfBusEleven

    No, I’m saying that identification when someone is out and about is necessary when someone is doing something illegal. Obviously, you want to know what someone looks like in that case, so that they can be identified. Once they’re identified by name, they can wear a burqa because everyone would know that it’s them. I’m disagreeing with you that not being able to see a person’s face at all times means that you don’t know who they are. Someone can be a legal resident without you seeing their face 24/7. And if you’re walking around France with a covering on your face, be it a burqa or sunglasses, the cop isn’t going to say, “Take that off your face so I can see who you are. Oh, yeah, I recognize you as a legal French resident. Move along now.”

  • Tracey T

    “If you can’t figure out why preventing someone from wearing a veil is completely different than forcing me to look at someone’s cock or your vajayjay I can’t help you.”
    *headdesk* The trouble is if you decide the state has the “right” to dictate what musty be covered, it takes the right to dictate what must be uncovered. To many people have argued they don’t like veiling b/c it offends their sensibilities and is not in keeping with the culture of their country. They do not want to be forced to look at someone in a veil, and they believe people should “respect” the culture they are in by following the cultural norms and “assimilating.” No one should force you to look at a VAGINA or PENIS but you shouldn’t be able to force them to cover themselves. No one should force anyone to look at a person in niqab or burka but they shouldn’t prevent anyone from wearing them either. Let’s stop putting the power to decide what people must wear and can not wear in the hands of others, regardless if the reasons are for religion, cultural identity, tradition, or avoiding offense.

  • supremepizza

    “What about the fact that the state already regulates our dress code in terms of things like nudity, what we can and cannot show in public (no breasts, e.g.). I for one would rather it not regulate this either; i.e. that people should be able to walk around naked as jay-birds”
    Ummm, yeah, the state isn’t regulating clothing its, regulating nudity. No one cares what you wear they only care about what you show…Yeah, kinda like 2 entirely different things…

  • sparky17

    I dono how i feel about this. On the one hand, the burqa/hijab are just ways for the patriarchy within the Islamic to control and dehumanize women. It’s like they are completely phasing women out of society. The koran doesn’t say anything about covering the face. On the other hand, the government is playing fashion police.

  • kandela

    If you can’t figure out why preventing someone from wearing a veil is completely different than forcing me to look at someone’s cock or your vajayjay I can’t help you.
    Yasmin Alibhai-Brown had this to say about the Burka: “It is time for us as a continent to rethink a garment which is more a statement about the position of women and the threat of men who apparently cannot control themselves if they see a woman’s face, hair, hand or ankles, than an item of clothing.”
    The burka is worn by Muslim women as a defence against men ravaging them, and not so much because the women desire it, but because the men regard it as temptation. That’s not too different to the Western double standard that says men can go topless, but if a woman does it she is inviting men to ogle her. There are laws in the West that prevent women going topless, there was a thread not too long ago on this forum where that concept was challenged. These laws it was said sexualised that part of a woman’s body, well don’t these muslim laws sexualise the entirety of a woman’s body. Is it really so different to challenge muslim laws that mandate the wearing of a covering garment?
    The problem of course, is that banning the burka is a bit like banning women from wearing tops in order to desexualise breasts.
    So, what’s the solution, how do we help muslim women escape this oppression without imposing another oppression on them? Does anyone have any suggestions?


    There is no way in hell they should be able to tell women they can’t wear the veils, and to fine them is ridiculous.
    I don’t see what’s wrong with police officers being able to ask to see a woman’s face for identification though, if they’re searching for someone or going into a high-security area.

  • Captiver

    Cattrack2 wrote: “If you can’t figure out why preventing someone from wearing a veil is completely different than forcing me to look at someone’s cock or your vajayjay I can’t help you.”
    Hi, Cattrack 2, thanks for your response and your point is well taken. Nudity and the veil (excuse vague terminology) are completely different. In part I was responding to the line of reasoning that uses the premise that dress codes shouldn’t be legislated in order to oppose this particular law.
    Still, I feel you are angry at my for my finding this NOT so absolutely clear-cut as you do. There are many such complicated issues, like genital cutting/female circumcision. [Not sure, but tending toward thinking it should be outlawed.] Sex-selective abortions in cultures that punish women for having girl children? [I don't think it should be outlawed for women in such situations.] What about convicting and locking up gay men, as is happening in Malawi at the moment? I heard on the Beeb an interview with a Malawian govt. official arguing that it was cultural imperialism for the West to insist on gay rights in countries that traditionally abhor homosexuality. (I have no knowledge as to whether there is any such cultural tradition, just quoting the Malawian official here.)
    I actually think on a lot of these issues that I DO have something of an inconsistent position and often arguments that use analogies don’t work because they apply to one case but then you need another analogy to get the ‘right’ answer for another.
    I was very interested in your comment that you can get on in France as a black American but not as a black Muslim. (I’m white, lived in the U.S. for 14 years, fyi.) Which perhaps speaks in part to which group France/ the French (grossly generalized terms, I know) feel threatened by. So maybe my own lack of clarity on this issue speaks more to my fear than to anything else.
    Indeed, I think it is true that viscerally, I get some kind of frisson of fear at the niqab and the burqa. And I do appreciate that legislating etc. based on fear is where racist laws come from. That said, I remain uncertain about this issue. Thanks again for commenting.

  • OKathyS

    I don’t like the fact that some Muslim women feel that they have to, or just plain have to keep their entire faces covered, but this law is wrong. There’s a happy medium to be found here.

  • Broggly

    Except there’s a big difference between mutilating a girl’s feet and wearing a niqab. Foot binding causes actual pain and suffering, and causes permanent damage to the body so like genital mutilation it must be banned to protect children from their parents (and to some extent misguided adults from themselves). Wearing the burqa or niqab doesn’t cause any physical damage to the wearer (maybe they’ll get Vitamin D problems, but that’s really reaching) so there’s no real reason to ban it.
    However, typing this post made me realise that minors can quite easily be legally forced to wear anything their parents want, since being economically dependent on their parents they can have everything but the essentials taken from them, and it’s a lot harder to become successful in life without the support of your parents.

  • Broggly

    That sounds just like the people who attack Atheists as being unamerican and support religious tests for office because “It’s freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. You have to pick one.”

  • kandela

    Your right, there is no physical damage being done. However, I wonder about what psychological or social damage is being done by such isolating garments.
    Foot binding made women dependant on their male family by reducing their mobility. I worry that women wearing the burka or niquab are being made emotionally dependant on their male family members through social isolation.