Monday, April 2, 2012

France: burqa ban not enforced

 “This is not a police problem. We are the end of the law, on the ground, in contact with the people. But this is a problem of integration, of pedagogy, sociology, and acculturation.”


From The Star March 31 by Andrew Chung

French ban on Islamic veil turns out to be toothless

VÉNISSIEUX, FRANCE—It’s an unusually warm, spring morning in Venissieux, a downtrodden suburb of Lyon, and Fadela, 23, covered from head to toe in a black niqab, her black gloves adorned with elegant flower stitching, is walking with her friend Najet to the discount market called Ed.
A police car passes but does not stop. Fadela says that’s not unusual. “This is a sensitive neighbourhood,” she surmised. “It’d be a problem for the police.”
In fact, Fadela, who agreed to be interviewed on condition her real name not be used, said police have never told her to uncover her face.
Nearly one year after France implemented its controversial ban on wearing the Islamic veil— a niqab or burka — in public, a surprising fact has emerged. It appears that few women have actually removed their veils to obey the law.
As the presidential election in France approaches, and Islam and Muslim integration are top of mind, critics say the law was an exercise in pleasing the electorate, in “marketing,” while further stigmatizing Muslims.
It didn’t take a visitor to the Les Minguettes neighbourhood of Vénissieux long to observe the widespread non-compliance.
Upon emerging from the subway at Vénissieux station, a niqab-wearing woman walked in from the opposite direction, accompanied by a man. On the tram platform outside, two niqab-wearers waited, chatting. And in Les Minguettes, they were not the norm, but neither were they hard to find.
“Not much has changed, we still see the burka. There are not more, there are not less,” one high-level municipal government official in the area told the Star.
Vénissieux is the place where the idea for the law first originated, with André Gérin, then the Communist mayor and soon-to-be-retired National Assembly member.
Gérin disputed French government numbers that 2,000 women in the country wore niqabs. With so many in his community alone, he thought there were many more. He saw Islamic extremism at work and thought women’s rights were at risk.
Today, Gérin says he has “no idea” how many women have chosen to take off their veils as a result of the law. He compares those who don’t to people who walk on the grass in parks when it’s prohibited.
“It’s a symbolic law,” he said in an interview. “What’s important for me is it’s a law of liberation for women.”
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