On April 11, the hotly debated “burqa ban” went into effect in France. The new law prohibits covering one’s face in public, except in cases where safety necessitates it (e.g., motorcycle helmets). According to John Lichfield’s article in The Independent, the implementation of the ban was met by small pockets of protest, largely from more radical Islamic communities. Many moderate Muslims in France are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They don’t want to be seen as “burqa defenders,” especially since they do not regard facial veiling as required by Islam. On the other hand, some worry that the ban is symbolic of public discomfort with Islam more generally. They also fear that the ban will be seen as an attack against Islam that will cause more moderate Muslims to radicalize around the issue.
On the ground, there are actually very few Muslim women who practice facial veiling in France. These women do not typically wear the burqa—the type of full-body veil common in Afghanistan. Instead, they opt for the niqab, a less restrictive Salafist or Saudi full-length veil that nonetheless has only a narrow opening for the eyes. Still, the 2,000 or so women who are affected by the ban are now forced to make a choice. If they wear their customary veil in public, they face a fine of €150. But if they comply with the law, they will be forced to expose their faces in public, sometimes for the first time in years, arguably infringing on their personal freedoms and religious convictions.
How the ban will actually be policed is still uncertain, as are the long-term effects that this will have on women like 32-year-old Mariam, a French citizen who says: “I have decided to obey the law but to leave home as little as possible.”
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