FaithWorld

Much ado about nothing: fine for niqab-wearing French driver dropped

niqab (Photo: Sandrine Mouleres, June 28, 2010/Stephane Mahe)

A French police tribunal has annulled a 22 euro ($29.50) fine against a woman found wearing a niqab while driving in the western city of Nantes last April. The case fuelled not just one but two separate debates in France, one on banning the “burqa” and another on polygamy among immigrants. Full veils have been legally banned, the polygamy debate has temporarily fizzled out and Sandrine Mouleres, the Muslim convert who challenged the fine, seems to have come out a winner. For now, at least…

The tribunal annulled the traffic ticket issued by officers who argued that Mouleres could not see properly while wearing her niqab, which covered her face but left an opening for her eyes. As her lawyer Jean-Michel Pollono put it: “This means one can drive today with a niqab. There is no danger as long as whatever the driver wears doesn’t block her vision. A niqab moves with the head.”

The second debate, about polygamy, arose when it was reported that Mouleres was one of four wives of an Algerian-born man, Liès Hebbadj, and he might be collecting family allowances for all four. Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux suggested he might be stripped of his French nationality if found guilty of these allegations. Hebbadj fought back by saying he doesn’t have four wives, but one wife and three mistresses (and 12 children among them). “If one can be stripped of one’s French nationality for having mistresses, then many French could lose theirs,” said Hebbadj, a halal butcher in Nantes.

This new twist in the DWV (driving while veiled) story brought up an interesting question. Now that France has banned the niqab in public, what would the legal situation be for Mouleres if police stopped her these days? Pollono said the car was considered a private space but he was not sure how a court would classify a car driving on a public road.  Nor was he sure whether she would have to take off her niqab when she gets out of the car.

This turn of events doesn’t mean France is warming up to Muslim women’s headgear. Also on Monday, a labour tribunal in Mantes-la-Jolie west of Paris confirmed the 2008 firing of a woman from a private creche because she refused to take off her headscarf.  The tribunal rules that the creche could apply the same  secular principle (laïcité) as public creches where religious clothing is banned under a 2004 law.

French far-right star compares praying Muslims to Nazi occupiers

prayers (Photo: Muslims in Perpignan pray in public after a Muslim youth was murdered, May 28, 2005/Georges Bartoli)

Marine Le Pen has put paid to the idea she would put a softer face on France’s National Front for elections in 2012 with anti-Muslim comments that have aroused a storm of criticism. Le Pen, the likely next far-right challenger for the French presidency, compared overflowing mosques in France with the Nazi occupation — remarks indicative of a drift to the right in parts of Europe that could let the National Front eat into support for the ruling conservative UMP party in 2012.

Le Pen, the frontrunner to succeed her father Jean-Marie Le Pen as head of the party, made the comments on a television show last Thursday with about 3.4 million viewers watching. On Monday she dismissed any suggestion of a gaffe. “My comments were absolutely not a blunder, but a completely thought-out analysis,” she told a news conference, adding she was merely saying out loud what everyone thought privately.

le pen 1Given support of 12 to 14 percent in recent opinion polls, Marine Le Pen is regarded as more electable than her father, who was convicted in 1990 for inciting racial hatred. But her remarks suggest that far from moderating the party line, she will go all out to outgun conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy to secure the slice of the French electorate that opposes high immigration.

Scathing U.S. view of French unrest and Muslim integration in WikiLeaks

burbs 1 (Photo: Local youths watch firemen extinguish burning vehicles during clashes in the Paris suburb of Aulnay sur Bois, early November 3, 2005/Victor Tonelli)

The U.S. embassy in Paris turns out to be one of the sharpest critics of France’s track record in integrating its Muslim minority. Thanks to WikiLeaks, we now have its unvarnished view of the 2005 unrest in the poor suburbs of Paris and other large cities. It is a scathing indictment that goes beyond even what many of the government’s domestic critics at the time were saying. It may also go beyond most if not all of the criticisms of domestic policy found in cables from other European capitals (has anyone found anything more devastating elsewhere?). Here is our overall news report on the cables. Some excerpts from the key cables are copied below.

burbs 2For FaithWorld, it’s especially interesting to see what the embassy says about “what the violence is not”. Back in those days, some American media were throwing around terms like “Paris intifada” and “Muslim riots” as if Huntington’s “clash of civilisations” had reached the outlying stations of the Paris Metro network. The cables are clearly written to refute that view. Yes, many of the rioters came from a Muslim background, but this was a socio-economic protest by a growing underclass, as we have argued in earlier posts such as  “Smoke without fire – there was no ‘Paris intifada’ in 2005″ and “Why we don’t call them ‘Muslim riots’ in Paris suburbs.” (Photo:  Hooded youths from poor suburbs of Paris taunt riot police during a nationwide protest against a youth jobs law,  in Paris March 28, 2006/Jacky Naegelen)

If religion had to be brought into the issue, it would have to be mentioned as an underlying cultural background on both sides — something that French politicians and editorialists didn’t do and don’t like. But this cable did do that in one of its most striking quotes — “The real problem is the failure of white and Christian France to view their darker, Muslim compatriots as real citizens.” As Le Monde put it: “The Americans’ logic has never been explained in such transparent fashion.”

Europe cited in US religious freedoms report

minaret 1 (Photo: A cow in a Swiss meadow next to billboard against minarets in Zwillikon November 13, 2009/Christian Hartmann)

The United States voiced concern on Wednesday over deteriorating religious freedoms in many parts of the world, including several European countries where “harsh measures” limiting religious expression have been put in place.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveiled the latest State Department report on global religious freedom, which rates countries around the world.

“Religious freedom is both a fundamental human right and an essential element to any stable, peaceful, thriving society,” Clinton told a news conference

Algeria War wounds still bleed in French politics

algiers barricade (Photo: Algiers barricade by French settlers backing General Jacques Massu, January 1960/Michel Marcheux)

Nearly 50 years after Algeria won independence from France, the unhealed wounds of the war of decolonisation keep wrenching at French society and could play a key role in the 2012 presidential election.

The unending Algerian trauma explains why France finds it so hard to integrate its large Muslim minority, why second and third generation Muslims of Maghreb origin born in France often feel alienated from their country of birth, and why politicians continue to find fertile ground in their quest for votes.

“There is an endless battle of memory, both within France and between the French and the Algerians,” said Benjamin Stora, the leading French historian of the Maghreb.

French “Satanic defenestration” story thrown out the window

devil 1Apart from the strikes against pension reform, one of the big stories in France that made headlines around the world these past few days has been about 12 people of African origin who reportedly jumped out of an apartment window in a Paris suburb to flee from a man they thought was the devil. A four-month old baby died in the incident. The initial stories spoke of satanic rituals, maybe something to do with voodoo, and a crazed collective leap into the dark. (Images: The Devil, by Polish sculptor Jan Graczyk, 2005/Michal Graczyk)

The drama was said to have begun when a woman awoke late at night to find her husband walking in the bedroom naked. As one report put it:

She began screaming ‘it’s the devil! it’s the devil!’, and the man ran into the other room where 11 others adults and children were watching television. One woman grabbed a knife and stabbed the man before other family members pushed him out through the front door.

Muslim religious demands on French state schools rising: report

lyceeThe sometimes difficult integration of Muslims is climbing the ladder of public concerns in Europe. It’s been hotly debated in Germany and figured in recent elections in the Netherlands and Austria. Now, a French government body called the High Council for Integration (HCI) has drawn up a critical report about the problems faced by — and posed by — school pupils with immigrant backgrounds. It’s not only about Muslim pupils, but they are mentioned so frequently that it’s clear who’s mostly involved here. (Photo: Lycée Condorcet in Paris,  27 June 2009/Juan Antonio Cordero)

Among its findings, the report says Muslim pupils and parents in France are increasingly making religious demands on the state school system and that teachers should rebuff these demands by explaining the country’s principle of laïcité, the official separation of church and state. Among the problems it listed were pupils who upset classes by objecting to courses about the Holocaust, the Crusades or evolution, who demand halal meals and generally “reject French culture and its values.”

For more of its findings, read our news report on the study here.

“It is becoming difficult for teachers to resist religious pressures,” said the report, posted in draft form (here in French) on the website of the newspaper Journal du Dimanche (JDD), which published an article in its paper edition entitled “School threatened by communalism.” “We should now reaffirm secularism and train teachers how to deal with specific problems linked to the respect for this principle,” it said. The final report will be presented to the government next month.

In quiet revolution, Turkey eases headscarf ban

turkey headscarfFreshman Busra Gungor won’t have to wear a wig to cover her Islamic headscarf, as many pious relatives and friends did to avoid getting kicked off campus.

In a landmark decision, Turkey’s Higher Education Board earlier this month ordered Istanbul University, one of the country’s biggest, to stop teachers from expelling from classrooms female students who do not comply with a ban on the headscarf. (Photo: Women demonstration for headscarves at the  Constitutional Court in Ankara on October 23, 2008/Umit Bektas)

It was the latest twist in a long political and legal tussle in Turkey between those who see the garment as a symbol of their Muslim faith and those who view it as a challenge to the country’s secular constitution.

Al Qaeda offers to free French hostages if burqa ban ended – TV

veilAl Qaeda’s north African arm wants a repeal of a ban on the Muslim face veil in France, the release of militants and 7 million euros to free hostages who include five French, Al Arabiya TV said on Monday.  Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is holding seven foreigners in the Sahara desert after kidnapping them last month. (Photo: A woman protests outside the French Embassy in London against France’s veil ban, 25 Sept 2010/Luke MacGregor)

The sources did not specify which militants the hostage-takers wanted released. France’s Foreign Ministry dismissed the report as one of several “rumours” since the kidnappings in mid-September.

The government has not received any demands from AQIM since the seven were taken, but has said it would consider negotiating with the hostage-takers for their release. Initial contacts with AQIM through local chiefs in Mali were “not encouraging” due to the nature of the demands, the sources told the Dubai-based television station.

France charges man for burning, urinating on Koran

koran (Photo: Verses in an oversized Koran being copied in Leganon, August 30, 2010/Ali Hashisho)

A blogger who filmed himself burning the Koran and urinating on it to put out the flames is to appear in court in eastern France, charged with incitement to religious hatred, legal sources said on Tuesday.

Threats in September by a Florida preacher to hold a high-profile protest burning of the Koran sparked global outrage among Muslims, and triggered violent protests in Afghanistan in which one protester was shot dead.

In the film, which was posted on the Internet, the 30-year-old blogger from Bischheim near Strasbourg is seen sitting in his living room wearing a devil’s mask and tearing pages out of a copy of the Koran to make paper airplanes.