France’s ban on full face veils goes into force
France’s ban on full face veils, a first in Europe, went into force Monday, exposing anyone who wears the Muslim niqab or burqa in public to fines of 150 euros (£131.90). 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 Muslim leaders have said they support neither the veil nor the law banning it.
The timing is sensitive after France’s ruling political party, President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP, called a debate on the place of Islam in France, a move that some say risked stigmatising a portion of the population.
Police received a guide last week to help implement the ban. It tells them not to remove veils by force. It also notes that the ban does not apply inside private cars but reminds policemen such cases can be dealt with under road safety rules.
A Muslim property dealer, who is urging women to keep wearing the veil if they want to, has urged supporters to meet outside Notre Dame cathedral in central Paris for a silent prayer during the day. He has also pledged to auction off a house near Paris to raise one million euros for a fund to pay the fees for any woman fined for wearing a full face veil in public.
French police arrested 59 people Saturday who turned up for a banned protest over the veil ban, one of them on arrival in France from Britain, according to a police spokesman. Twenty of those arrested had turned up for the prohibited protest at the Place de la Nation in eastern Paris wearing the full veil.
Rachid Nekkaz, the man who called for the Notre Dame prayer, said in a webcast that he was putting a property worth around two million euros up for sale to help fund his campaign. “I am calling on all free women who so wish, to wear the veil in the street and engage in civil disobedience,” he said. Here is his statement in French:
(Rachid Nekkaz: “Je paierai les amendes… by oumma)
For more on the ban, see the government’s website “The Republic lives with an open face” (La République se vit à visage découvert) in French. It includes an information pamphlet and a copy of the Marianne poster pictured above that is meant to be printed out and distributed locally.