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.