The clash between a series of newly enacted European laws meant to uphold the region’s “secular” values and those of Islam intensified on Monday, with France becoming the first country in the world to impose a total ban on veils covering the face anywhere in public.
As of today it is illegal to wear a burqa or a niqab on a sidewalk or in a park; while riding the bus or going shopping, in France. According to the new law a veiled woman risks a ¤150 fine or special citizenship classes. Any person forcing a woman to don a veil is subject to the harsher punishment of up to a year in prison and a ¤30,000 fine.
On Monday, the police detained two women protesting the law at one of Paris’s well known landmarks, the Notre Dame cathedral. The women were part of a small group of protestors who gathered at the venue wearing veils.
According to wire reports the police claimed that the arrests were made not because the women in question had worn veils but because their protest was “unauthorised.”
Although France has one of the largest Muslim immigrant populations in the EU, estimated at around 5 million, the number of women who actually wear a burqa or niqab is a mere 2,000 or so. However, many Muslims see the ban as an attack on their religion and as only the latest example of a trend of growing Islamophobia across Europe.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy began the procedure for securing the ban nearly two years ago on the grounds that the full veil imprisoned women and contradicted the secular nation’s values of dignity and equality. The ban enjoyed wide public support when it was approved by parliament last year, with the senate voting in favour of it by 246 votes to one.
France is not the only country to be interested in banning the burqa in public. Last year Belgium’s lower house of parliament voted to outlaw all clothing that covers or partially covers the face, but it was dissolved before the law could be enforced.
Banning practices related to the Muslim religion in Europe have moreover not been limited to the burqa. Head scarves in schools are already forbidden in many areas across Europe, most notably France. In a referendum in September 2009, Swiss voters barred Muslims from building minarets from where the muezzin leads the call to prayers.