In July of 2010, the French Parliament passed a bill that prohibits face covering in public. While the bill refers to face coverings in general terms, it is clear that this bill is specifically targeting Muslim women who wear the burqa or the niqab. The passing of the bill is not entirely surprising given the secular nature of France. It follows a 2004 bill that according an article in The Middle East Quarterly, “forbade the wearing of religious clothing in public schools.” The 2004 bill included the banning of visible Christian crosses and Jewish skullcaps as well as veils and hijabs.
Having recently returned from Paris, the difference between France and England in this respect was very noticeable to me. When walking around London, you are likely to see many women wearing many different types of coverings, from fully covering burqas to simple hijabs. In France, however, it was scarce very covered women and even women just wearing a hijab were few and far between. One day when we were taking a boat cruise, I saw two women, presumably tourists, wearing face veils and it made me wonder what would happen if they were caught in public. In looking this up, I found many different negatives and positives to the idea.
The positives seem pretty straightforward. In a very secular nation such as France, it seems to make sense that many would see the burqa as strange and oppressive. As described in the Middle East Quarterly, “the sight of women in burqas can be demoralizing and frightening to Westerners of all faiths, including Muslims, not to mention secularists. Their presence visually signals the subordination of women.” The article also goes on to mention that there is an element of social isolation that is included in wearing the burqa that can be magnified by the awkward responses of Westerners. Overall, the main arguments for the banning of the burqa seem to be in response to the notion that many of the women are being forced to wear it against their choice. This goal is noble in its aim for the protection of the women, but is not nearly as straightforward as the government of France would like to believe.
One of the main problems faced by this bill is the discrimination that has arisen in the wake of it. According to an article in The Guardian, “many Muslim groups report a worrying increase in discrimination and verbal and physical violence against women in veils.” The passing of the bill has seemed to justify the singling out of Muslim women, especially those that wear the burqa or the niqab. Many women are being refused in shops, taunted by people in the street, and sometimes even attacked or having their veils ripped off. This is the main problem that I see with the bill. Although it comes from a good place, protecting the women that are being forced to dress a certain way, it also is forcing those that would choose to wear it regardless of what the men in their lives would say to be discriminated against. The truth of the matter is that the women that would have been forced to wear it, best case scenario, are now going to be forced to remain indoors, or are going to be hurt by either their husbands or fathers or by the government and the people of France itself.
Overall, it seems that the passing of this bill in France, although it passed very easily, has much more complicated repercussions than anyone would have foreseen in the beginning.