France will start enforcing a ban next month on full Islamic face veils, officials said on Thursday, meaning any veiled woman can be summoned to a police station and asked to remove her face-covering or pay a fine. Officials say the law is mainly symbolic and police will not call in every veiled woman they see to avoid stigmatising Muslims.
The ban forbids wearing any garment concealing the face in a public space, namely the street, public transport, shops, schools, courtrooms, hospitals and government buildings. From April 11, police are instructed to summon veil-wearers to a station, where they will be asked to remove the garment for “identification” and leave it off. If the wearer refuses to remove it they will be fined up to 150 euros ($208).
When France passed the ban on full face veils last year, Muslim leaders voiced concern it could lead to veiled women being unfairly treated by police or singled out for harassment. “My gut reaction is to say this is all a bit clumsy,” said Moussa Niambele, the imam of a mosque in the north of Paris. “You are stopped in public by the police and forced to follow them to the station like an undesirable person. This is altogether too much ceremony.”
France’s Muslim community of 5 million is Europe’s largest. Fewer than 3,000 women wear the face veil, the goverment says. As part of its public relations effort, the government plans to roll out a website with the URL “www.visage-decourvert.gouv.fr” (which translates as “uncovered-face.gouv.fr”) and print posters and pamphlets to be passed out in city halls.