Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Hijab ban & France: Join the debate

France is considering further restrictions against the Islamic headscarf. Are the bans fair or are they discriminatory?

Image: Khashayar Elyassi

The banning of Islamic face veils in France, which was officially implemented in 2011, was the first time a European government has legislated against an Islamic custom. In defence of the anti-Islamic law, President Chirac stated that the veil was an aggressive symbol, which France could no longer accept. It was declared illegal for anyone to have their faces covered, as French authorities claimed the strictest forms of the Islamic headscarf led to an uncomfortable feeling in society and encouraged segregation within the community. The punishment for wearing a face veil included a €150 fine as well as a citizenship course.

A veil is a covering that Muslim women wear in order to preserve their modesty. Some wear a loose scarf around their head and neck, and some completely cover their faces and bodies. Islam's holiest scripture states: "They should draw close to them portions of their loose outer coverings. That is nearer that they may thus be distinguished and not molested. And Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful." (Quran, 33:59). The conflict between Islam's religious law and France's government's law was a classic example of a Muslim – or anyone for that matter - being stuck in the middle of the dichotomous and on-going debate of state versus religion. 

It is evident that some did in fact remove their veils from their faces. As The New York Times reported a year after the ban came into effect: "A few women construct a full-face veil out of a hijab, or a head scarf, in combination with other scarves that can be quickly removed or replaced. Some women wear caps and sunglasses to complete the covering but in a way that appears secular or even fashionable." On the other hand, much of the international media ran with headlines similar to The Guardian's: "First woman fined for wearing niqab". A number of women refused to remove their veils and faced the punishment imposed on them, for example, being banned from entering France. 

A similar case involved the 1994 Egyptian decree which implemented school-dress regulation and banned any students from covering their faces, including with the Islamic veil. If this law was not followed, students would not be allowed to enter their school. Many girls refused to take off their coverings and were subsequently excluded. Meanwhile, Turkey banned the headscarf in 1923. While the laws were somewhat relaxed in 2011, allowing students to wear the veil, a generation of practising Muslim women had already been marginalised.

Earlier this year, France's president, Francois Hollande, promised to consider further legislation banning private professionals - such as child carers - from wearing the the veil. In the months since, tensions have risen across France and many attacks against Muslim women have been reported. In one incident, a pregnant Muslim woman in a headscarf was attacked and miscarried just days later. Last month, riots broke out in Paris after French police forced a Muslim woman to unveil.

What do you think of the headscarf? Does it pose a risk to security or a threat to western culture? Or should governments respect Muslim women's right to dress how they choose?

Leave your thoughts below.
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