France starts ban on full-face veil, factbox on veils in Europe
France’s ban on full face veils, a first in Europe, went into force on Monday, making anyone wearing the Muslim niqab or burqa in public liable to a fine of 150 euros or lessons in French citizenship.
Mainstream Muslim groups, which had a six-month grace period after the law was passed to explain it to their supporters, opted not to protest at its entry into force. “We’ve already had our debate about the law and now our position is clear: we respect French law 100 percent,” said a spokesman for the French Council of the Muslim Faith.
Police said they had detained five people, two men and three women, at the small protest in front of Notre Dame Cathedral. The protestors were held for identity checks because their demonstration had not been authorised, not because they were wearing forbidden clothing, a policeman told Reuters.
“It’s so stupid what they’ve done with this law, because now people will wear the (full-face veil) not out of faith but because they are looking for a confrontation,” said Hager Amer, a 27-year-old Muslim woman.
France’s five-million-strong Muslim minority is Western Europe’s largest, but fewer than 2,000 women are believed actually to wear a full face veil. Many still oppose the law, however, on the grounds of the precedent it sets.
Below is a Factbox on government policies on full face veils in some other European countries:
France is the first country in Europe to ban full-face veils. Under the new law, police are not allowed to ask women to remove their full-face veil in the street. They will instead be escorted to a police station and asked to remove the veil there for identification.
The law has attracted criticism from religious leaders and opposition politicians who accuse President Nicolas Sarkozy of pandering to far-right voters ahead of an election in 2012.
Almost 10 percent of France’s 62 million population are Muslim. In 2004 France banned headscarves from state primary and secondary schools under a law against conspicuous religious symbols, which also covered Jewish kippa skullcaps and large Christian crosses.
Female university students may wear headscarves that do not cover the face, since they are adults. Teachers and other civil servants may not wear any religious symbols at work.
The Dutch minority coalition government, formed in October 2010, is under pressure from its ally, Geert Wilders’ anti-Muslim Freedom Party, to introduce a broad ban on wearing full-face veils in public places.
The minority government relies on Wilders to secure a majority in parliament, and its agreement to implement a ban was one of the conditions of Wilders’ support.
So far, the legislation has not been drawn up, but Wilders says he hopes it will be introduced this year.
The Muslim community say very few women wear the burqa, and that a general ban would heighten alienation among the Netherlands’ 1 million Muslims.
Italy has not passed any national legislation but some towns have tried to ban burqas with local decrees. A 1975 law provides for fines and up to two years in jail
for those who cover their face with anything that prevents their identification by police.
Belgium’s lower house voted a year ago in favour of banning the full veil. However, the ban has not been enacted and is on hold owing to long-term political deadlock.
The wearing of Islamic veils or headscarves is officially prohibited at universities in predominantly Muslim but constitutionally secular Turkey. However, universities began taking a more permissive stance with the new academic year after the Higher Education Board, in a landmark decision last October, ordered Istanbul University,
one of Turkey’s biggest, to prevent teachers expelling female students who do not comply with the ban from classrooms.
Civil servants are also banned from wearing the headscarf, which is otherwise commonly worn by many Turkish women, including the wives of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul.
A bid by the ruling AK Party government to lift the headscarf ban almost four years ago was blocked by the Constitutional Court, and almost led to the party being closed for anti-secular activities.
Hesse in February became the only German regional state to ban face veils for public sector workers. Seven of Germany’s 16 states have banned teachers in state
schools from wearing Islamic headscarves, angering Muslim groups, who say it discriminates against them. A majority of Germany’s roughly 4 million Muslims are of
An opinion poll last year indicated that 61 percent of Germans favoured a burqa ban. Supporters include a Catholic bishop in Bavaria and also Germany’s most prominent feminist, Alice Schwarzer. The federal interior and justice ministries oppose a ban.