Blague d'une musulmane britannique : "Toutes mes cousines en France portent la burqa. C'est super, parce qu'elles n'ont qu'un seul pass pour les transports". A partir de demain, ce n'est plus drôle. La France se distingue encore une fois pour l'insulte qu'elle fait à sa propre devise de 'Liberté, égalité, fraternité' en interdisant la burqa dans l'espace public.
Un article dans The Observer d'aujourd'hui.
France's absurd ban on traditional Islamic dress strikes at the very freedoms Europeans should cherish
par Viv Groskop
The Observer, Sun 10 Apr 2011
There was a time when Shazia Mirza, stand-up comic and British Asian Muslim, performed as a character who wore a hijab. She doesn't now. But she still has a good line on the full-body veil. "All my cousins in France wear the burqa. Which is great. Because they all use the same bus pass."
Not any more. Tomorrow, France launches a full-scale ban. For Sarkozy and his friends, the burqa is no joke. It's dangerous and illegal. Women wearing the burqa and the niqab (the more common facial veil) will not exactly be arrested on sight. But if they wear a veil over their face in a public place, anyone can ask them to uncover their face – or leave. Not quite stop and search. Just stop and unmask. If a woman refuses to co-operate, citizens are advised to call the police. The fine is €150.
Does this sound a little unfriendly to you? If so, be very worried. Because this trend is spreading. A ban is already in operation in Belgium and under discussion in Canada, Denmark and Spain. It is likely to become law in the Netherlands this year or next. There have been calls in Sweden for the niqab to be prohibited in schools and universities.
A de facto ban already exists in Italy (where a 1975 antiterrorism law forbids the covering of the face) and Berlusconi's party has drafted a new, more specific ruling. Last year, a Tunisian woman was fined €500 for wearing a burqa in Italy's Piedmont region.
What a lot of fuss over a piece of cloth. And we haven't seen the last of this debate in the UK. Last year, Conservative MP Philip Hollobone introduced a private members' bill proposing a ban. Its supporters include Nigel Farage of Ukip and, more surprisingly, Saira Khan, the entrepreneur and one-time Apprentice contestant, a British Muslim. They all parrot the French argument. Khan says a ban is "not racist, it's common sense". They claim the veil is a symbol of a "divided Britain", that it's a potential security threat and oppressive to women.
But the women's rights defence is a ridiculous excuse for something very close to racism. As Ed Balls, then schools secretary, put it last year: "I wouldn't want to be part of a religion myself where we said to women and girls, 'You have to wear a veil.' But I also would not want to be in the kind of society where people were told how to dress when they walked down the streets."
In France, the feminist campaigning group Ni Putes Ni Soumises has argued that some niqab wearers will welcome tomorrow's ban because they wear the facial veil unwillingly, at the instigation of their husbands. Perhaps. But in greater numbers women are speaking out about having made their own decision. As Chrystelle Khedrouche, a 36-year-old French-born Muslim convert, interviewed by the BBC's Gavin Hewitt, puts it: "The French like the idea of everyone being of the same mould and that mould must be ideal. I have made the choice not to be unveiled… so to force me to unveil – that's not freedom."
Anti-burqa campaigners all over Europe suggest that this is an issue of personal safety and basic trust. In reality, it's just a form of Islamophobia. In France, the ban already feels unworkable, fatally divisive and, frankly, pathetic. Even the law itself is a strange beast, which goes by the catchy name of The Bill Prohibiting Facial Dissimulation in a Public Place. Note, no reference to Islam.
If the French were not so cowardly – and were being transparent about what they are doing – they would actually outlaw the burqa and the niqab by name, instead of coyly banning "the covering of the face". Presumably, it's now against the law in France to attend a fancy dress party dressed as Zorro or Catwoman. Because if there's one rule for one set of people who cover their face, that same rule should surely apply to anyone whose face is not immediately visible. Non?
Indeed, if the French are going to do this, let's hope they do it properly. Le Figaro has already expressed distress that it is technically against the law to wear a ski mask in a public place. Bad news for the black run at Val d'Isère. Aren't there some rampant beards that might sprout dangerously in the direction of facial dissimulation? What happens if you make your living as Papa Noel at Nouvelles Galeries ? answer to Santa's grotto?
It's when you realise this is the sort of idiocy in play that this law falls apart. It's not a public safety issue or even a misguided attempt to liberate oppressed women. It's a law designed to appeal to anti-immigration sentiment and, in France in particular, to stake a claim on the (resurgent) Front National's territory. Over here, the fact that Ukip shouts the loudest about this subject gives you some idea of the sort of company you would be keeping.
The fact is that in all these countries the niqab is worn by such a minority that this feels like a witch hunt. In Belgium, where the ban is operational, it is estimated there are 30 women who wear it. Yes, you read that correctly: 30. You might as well just visit their house and just ask them to leave the country. Although, why do that when you can introduce legislation that will make their lives a misery and/or make them prisoners in their own homes?
Even in France, the number is thought to be fewer than 2,000. But still the authorities have printed 100,000 posters and 400,000 leaflets with the smug slogan: "The republic lives with its face uncovered." This a PR exercise that has nothing to do with the veil and everything to do with rallying nationalistic sentiment.
Will it work? Not necessarily. On YouTube, the anti-ban "Niqabitch" video ("bitches in niqabs") has gone viral again. This footage first appeared last year. It shows two women wearing the niqab with mini-shorts and high heels, strutting the streets of Paris to the Piaf-like strains of Colette Renard purring Les Nuits d'Une Demoiselle. They pose for mobile phone photos as cabbies toot their horns appreciatively. "We need more of this kind of thing," one shouts. A policewoman says: "I love your outfit. Can I take a picture?" From tomorrow, she'll have to ask them to uncover their faces or take them to the nearest magistrate.
Jean-Francois Copé, leader of Sarkozy's UMP party, says the ban has the support of 74% of the population. But if you read the comment threads on French news websites, France is divided. Granted, many support the ban. As one commentator writes: "This is France. Live by French laws." But equal numbers voice the idea that this ban violates "the basic French principle of liberty".
Exactement. Because liberty means allowing others to get on with their lives, even if you don't approve of their wardrobe choices. In the meantime, anyone planning a trip to the Alps might want to select their winter headgear very carefully.