(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.