French Muslim rejects polygamist charge, says has wife and 3 lovers
France’s debate about Muslim face veils has taken an ironic twist. An Algerian-born Muslim man who is a naturalised French citizen has fought back against charges of polygamy by saying he doesn’t have four wives, but one wife and three mistresses (and 12 children among them). What could be more French than that? he asked journalists on Monday as politicians debated how they could strip him of his citizenship.
“If one can be stripped of one’s French nationality for having mistresses, then many French could lose theirs,” Liès Hebbadj, a halal butcher in the western city of Nantes, said after visiting the lawyer for his wife, who was fined for driving while wearing a full facial veil.
That moving violation is what got this curious story rolling. After Mrs. Hebbadj — a French-born woman who goes by the assumed name Anne in this saga — was fined, it emerged that her husband was believed to be a polygamist drawing family support payments for each wife separately. The DWV (driving while veiled) charge would have been enough to fan the fire of a national debate about banning full facial veils such as niqabs or burqas.
The polygamy link suddenly added additional fuel. Indeed, it seems to have overtaken the debate among the politicians in Paris. It’s hard to say what will happen, but this could lead to closer scrutiny of polygamy among immigrants, in addition to the “burqa ban” that President Nicolas Sarkozy seems intent to push through. There appears to be some polygamy among a tiny minority of Muslim and non-Muslim African immigrants, but I haven’t seen any overall figures on this. The police intelligence services may have their own internal figure, but it hasn’t become a media factoid yet like their famous 2,000 guesstimate for veiled women.
If this is the opening shot in a wider debate about polygamy, Hebbadj has responded with an interesting push-back. It wasn’t too long ago — 1996, in fact — that former President François Mitterrand’s longtime mistress and their daughter very publicly walked in his funeral procession. The out-of-wedlock daughter Mazarine walked in the front row, with the president’s widow Danielle and Mitterrand’s two sons by her, while Mazarine’s mother Anne Pingeot followed only a step or two behind.
Hebbadj became a French citizen by marrying the French-born Anne in a civil ceremony in 1999. The civil marriage ceremony is the only one recognised by the French state and even couples who want a religious ceremony must first go to city hall to tie the knot legally. So if Hebbadj did this, what he did with the other women should arguably be his own business. Even if he had Islamic religious ceremonies for the other, what should that mean for the French authorities? They always say religious marriages are irrelevant in their eyes.
Naturalised citizens can have their French passport taken away if they acquired it through fraud — if, for example, Hebbadj hid an existing marriage when he married Anne. Officials in Nantes are presumably searching through their files right now to see if he had civil ceremonies with the other women. If he did, he could be heading back to his native Algeria sometime soon.
He may be headed there even if he didn’t. The French have a way of imposing unwritten standards on society that conform to the majority view, no matter what any clever legal argument against it says. Just ask the Sikhs here. The French have banned their turbans from state schools as religious symbols (under the same law that banned headscarves for Muslim girls), even though it is the uncut hair, and not the cloth used to contain it, that is the statement of faith for Sikhs.
Here’s a Reuters video on government plans to introduce a ban on full facial veils such as niqabs or burqas: