Burqa News: France Burqa Ban begins tomorrow (11th April)
- 'Burqa ban' in France: housewife vows to face jail rather than submit
Muslim woman says that she will not accept pressure from mosques or state over 'burqa ban' that begins on 11 April
The Observer, Sunday 10 April 2011
Kenza Drider, a respectable mother-of-four, will leave her home in Avignon's Place de la Résistance on Monday with the intention of committing a crime. If the police are waiting for her – and they have had more than enough warning – she will be cautioned, perhaps be asked to accompany officers to the local station, possibly face a fine and, perhaps, will leave with a criminal record.
It is unlikely she will end up in jail, but who knows? It is a risk she is willing to take. Drider is not only determined to become a miscreant; she sees it as her absolute duty to do so.
This 32-year-old French housewife has become the face of the country's "burqa brigade", the women in France who cover themselves from head to toe in full veils. She will fall foul of a law that comes into effect on Monday 11 April tomorrow and forbids French citizens from covering their faces in public places; despite the ban's deliberately general wording, there is no doubt that its target is very specific: Muslim women.
Drider's first offence will be to set foot inside Avignon's TGV rail station where she is due to take a train to Paris. For this she risks a €150 fine and, if she repeats the offence, being sent on a "citizenship course".
"I will be going about my business in my full veil as I have for the last 12 years and nothing and nobody is going to stop me," she declares, swathed in the material she refuses to take off even while speaking to a female journalist in her own home.
Like most of the women concerned by this law, Drider wears a niqab veil that reveals only her eyes, as opposed to a burqa, the full body covering worn by Afghan women.
For all the political energy President Nicolas Sarkozy's right-of-centre government has expended on this law, it will affect a relative tiny number of women; estimates range from 350 to a maximum 2,000 full-veil wearers out of France's population of roughly 64 million. One group of women it is unlikely to disturb unduly are the wives of visiting oil sheikhs and rich Arab businessmen: only if a luxury shop insists they remove their veils might they be challenged.
It is not the potential effectiveness – or otherwise – of the ban that bothers Drider, however. It is the principle. "This whole law makes France look ridiculous," she says. "I never thought I'd see the day when France, my France, the country I was born in and I love, the country of liberté, égalité, fraternité, would do something that so obviously violates people's freedom.
"I'll be getting on with my life and if they want to send me to prison for wearing the niqab then so be it. One thing's for sure: I'm not taking it off."
A succession of journalists have traipsed through the Drider family's modest home since the law was mooted a couple of years ago. Reporters from the BBC, CNN, CBS, Time, the Sun, Reuters, Agence France-Presse, as well as journalists from Brazil, Spain, Turkey, Indonesia and Japan, have all sat here on the sofas that line the walls of the neat but simple living room.
The Observer has been given a slot following Friday prayers, after a journalist from a local Marseille newspaper and before a television team from Al-Jazeera.
Drider admits she is "very tired", but is nothing less than polite and charming, even when she is answering questions that she has been asked a dozen times before. The publicity drive, it seems, is a question of duty.
The St Jean estate, not far from Avignon's medieval ramparts and the celebrated bridge, is not so much impoverished as uniform and unimaginative, a maze of apartment blocks painted various shades of beige. Washing hangs from open windows and satellite TV dishes sprout from buff-coloured balconies like urban fungi, but the children's playground nearby is free of litter and graffiti. There are no children playing truant; in fact, there are so few people it is like a ghost town.
Locals, many of them from France's immigrant communities, do not draw attention to themselves. A woman in a headscarf shrugs, apologises and hurries off when I ask her about the burqa law.
Drider's husband Allal, 40, who works in a soup factory ("but only in winter when people eat soup") says that, unlike other urban housing estates, the area is not "chaud" (hot) and there is little trouble.
Allal is jolly and smiling with a neatly trimmed beard. He jokes that perhaps he should grow it longer and bushier, as Islamophobes think he and his wife are extremists.
Parliamentarians and feminists in France have argued that the full veil is a symbol of male oppression and that niqab-wearing women are bullied into it by their husbands. In Drider's case, this seems unlikely. In fact, Allal describes his shock when, without any warning, his wife emerged from the bedroom to go shopping one day wearing her niqab.
"Are you really going out dressed like that?" he asked.
"I didn't even know she had bought one," he tells me.
Drider, whose parents were immigrants from Morocco, says wearing the niqab was her own personal choice. In this, according to a study by the At Home in Europe project of the Open Society Foundations, she is not unusual: nearly all of the 32 French women interviewed for the project say that they – and no one else – made the decision that they would wear the niqab.
"There was no mosque involved, no pressure from anyone. It is not a religious constraint since it is not laid down in Islam or the Qur'an that I have to wear a full veil. It is my personal choice," she says.
"I would never encourage others to do it just because I do. That is their choice. My daughters can do what they like. As I tell them, this is my choice, not theirs."
She adds: "I never covered my head when I was young. I came from a family of practising Muslims, but we were not expected to even wear a headscarf.
"Then I began looking into Islam and what it meant to be a Muslim and decided to wear a headscarf. Afterwards in my research into the wives of the Prophet I saw they wore the full veil and I liked this idea and decided to wear it. Before, I had felt something was missing. Then I put it on and I felt serene and complete. It pleased me and it has become a part of me."
Drider says it is only since Sarkozy's government began discussing the veil ban that she has been subject to insults, harassment and death threats. "When President Sarkozy said: 'The burqa is not welcome in France', the president, my president, opened the door for racism, aggression and attacks on Islam. This is an attempt to stigmatise Islam and it has created enormous racism and Islamophobia that wasn't there before."
Drider says the issue is bigger than her, bigger than a "piece of material", and laughs at the threat of "citizenship courses" and fines, which she says she will not pay. "This is about basic fundamental human rights and freedoms. I will go out in my full veil and I will fight. I'm prepared to go all the way to the European court of human rights and I will fight for my liberty.
"Fines? They don't bother me. What is the state going to do, send a policeman outside my front door to give me a ticket every time I go out? For me this is women's liberty, the liberty to wear what I wish and not be punished for it.
"If women want to walk around half-naked I don't object to them doing so. If they want to wear tight jeans where you can see their underwear or walk around with their breasts hanging out, I don't give a damn. But if they are allowed to do that, why should I not be allowed to cover up?"
French police arrest burqa ban protesters
From Niki Cook, CNN
April 10, 2011 -- Updated 1503 GMT (2303 HKT)
Paris (CNN) -- Police in Paris arrested dozens of people for trying to hold an unauthorized demonstration to protest a ban on the wearing of Islamic veils such as burqas, they said Sunday.
France's controversial ban on the burqa and niqab takes effect on Monday.
A total of 59 people showed up at the scene of the planned march, which did not have police approval, authorities said. All were detained for refusing to leave the scene on Saturday.
Five were detained overnight because they did not have proper identification, and two of them are still in custody, police said Sunday afternoon.
Two other people, including the Britain-based radical Muslim Anjem Choudhury, were arrested while traveling to the planned demonstration Saturday, police said Sunday.
The organizers were denied permission to march because they are known Islamic extremists who could have promoted racial hatred, because they have been arrested in the past, and because of the likelihood that the protest would provoke a counter-demonstration that could lead to violence, police said.
A silent protest march against the burqa ban is planned for Monday morning in Paris. That demonstration, which was organized independently of the unauthorized Saturday protest, has been approved.
French Prime Minister Francois Fillon last month defended the ban as being in keeping with national values.
"The French Republic lives in a bare-headed fashion," he said in an official government newspaper explaining the law.
The law imposes a fine of 150 euros ($190). The person breaking the law can be asked to carry out public service duty as part of the punishment or as an alternative to the fine.
The law was passed in October but included a six-month period to inform people of the penalty before it went into effect.
Penalties for forcing a person to wear a burqa are part of the law, and they became effective immediately in October.
Forcing a woman to wear a niqab or a burqa is punishable by a year in prison and a 30,000 euro fine (about $43,400). Forcing a minor to do the same thing is punishable by two years in prison and 60,000 euro.
The government has called this coercion "a new form of enslavement that the republic cannot accept on its soil."
The practice has sparked a debate over religious freedom.
The French Constitutional Council said the law did not impose disproportionate punishments or prevent the free exercise of religion in a place of worship, finding therefore that "the law conforms to the Constitution."
"Given the damage it produces on those rules which allow the life in community, ensure the dignity of the person and equality between sexes, this practice, even if it is voluntary, cannot be tolerated in any public place," the French government said when it sent the measure to parliament in May of last year.
Lawmakers have also cited security reasons for forbidding people from covering their faces in public.
French people backed the ban by a margin of more than four to one, the Pew Global Attitudes Project found in a survey last year.
Some 82 percent of people polled approved of a ban, while 17 percent disapproved. That was the widest support the Washington-based think tank found in any of the five countries it surveyed.
Clear majorities also backed burqa bans in Germany, Britain and Spain, while two out of three Americans opposed it, the survey found.
Amnesty International had repeatedly urged France not to impose the ban, saying it violates European human rights law.
The ban pertains to the burqa, a full-body covering that includes a mesh over the face, and the niqab, a full-face veil that leaves an opening only for the eyes.
The hijab, which covers the hair and neck but not the face, and the chador, which covers the body but not the face, apparently are not banned by the law.
"The ban does not target the wearing of a headscarf, head-gear, scarf or glasses, as long as the accessories do not prevent the person from being identified," the Interior Ministry said in a statement
Fresh attempt launched to introduce anti-burqa law in Belgium
Mar 30, 2011, 13:54 GMT
Brussels - A committee in Belgium's lower chamber of parliament approved Wednesday a law outlawing burqas and other kinds of Islamic face veils - relaunching efforts to introduce the ban nearly one year after they were thwarted by a government crisis.
The law seeks to punish anyone caught in public places with their face completely or partly covered - thus preventing their identification - with fines between 15 to 20 euros (21 to 35 dollars) and/or up to seven days' imprisonment.
The draft law still needs to be approved by the full Chamber of Deputies and by the Senate, Belgium's upper house.
A similar bill won backing from the Chamber last April, but was still waiting to be approved by the Senate when a linguistic squabble between Belgium's French- and Dutch-speaking politicians led to parliament being dissolved, triggering early elections.
The bill was reintroduced by the centre-right French-speaking Mouvement Reformateur (MR), which stressed the need for a national law outlawing burqas after judges in January scrapped a local ban imposed in Etterbek, a district of Brussels, the Belga news agency said.
Like last year, all other parties backed the proposal except for the French- and Dutch-speaking Green parties, which renewed calls for Belgium's top administrative court to review the constitutionality of such a ban before it is introduced.
French police warned against arresting veiled Muslim women near mosques
London, Apr 5(ANI): French Interior Minister Claude Guent has warned the country's police against arresting Muslim women covering up 'in or around' mosques.
The strict instructions are contained in a nine-page circular issued to officers prior to a full-blown burqa ban, which will come into effect on April 11.
"The areas in and around mosques will be exempt from the ban. The aim of this new law is not to cause humiliation, or even persecution. It is to make sure that people do not cover their faces in public in a manner which will upset others," the Daily Mail quoted an Interior Ministry source, as saying.
The new ban will mean that France is officially the second country in Europe, after Belgium, to introduce a full ban on a garment which Immigration Minister Eric Besson has called a 'walking coffin.'
While women face the fines and 'civic duty' guidance if they break the law, men who force their wives or daughters to wear burqas will face up to a year in prison, and fines of up to 25,000 pounds.