Join me in a criminal court in suburban Paris on almost any weekday and I’ll show you exactly where national debates about female face coverings end up.
Ever since France introduced its “burqa ban” in 2011, there has been a constant stream of wretched cases involving the handful of Muslims who choose to wear such garments. Not only are perfectly upstanding women being fined for their choice of dress, principally the full-body niqab, which leaves a slit for the eyes, but an increasing number of defendants are being tried for attacking them.
One case involves two self-styled “patriotic vigilantes” who targeted a pregnant 21-year-old in the commuter town of Argenteuil, north-west of Paris, in June. The new law persuaded the men to shout racist insults before putting the woman in hospital, where she lost her baby. Another three reported cases on the same council estate over the course of just one month this summer saw full-veil wearers assaulted as their attackers shouted: “Dirty Arab, dirty Muslim.”
Those calling for a veil ban in Britain have clearly ignored such depressingly routine cases. They do not realise how the legislation introduced by President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government has not only stigmatised Muslim women, but somehow legitimised physical attacks on them. The ban in France is a hateful assault on basic freedoms, one that has been seized on by an unlikely alliance of rightwing politicians and feminists.
Excellent article by Nabila Ramdani in the Observer, 22 September 2013