France: whither the hijab intifada?

The on-again/off-again Parisian intifada has exploded again, this time over the arrest of a man whose wife was ticketed for wearing a face veil in the suburb of Trappes. Police say the man "tried to strangle" the officer doing the ticketing. The Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) published a statement on its website from the wife of the arrested man, accusing the police of being abusive and using unnecessary force. The incident was on the night of the 18th, and Muslim youth have been clashing with the police in Trappes since then. (Islamophobia Watch, July 21; AP, July 20)

OK, we confess to having mixed feelings on the hijab question. We have noted that many feminists from the Islamic world support the hijab ban in France, arguing that the hijab is a symbol of women's oppression and never truly voluntary. On the other hand, the law provides another excuse for police harassment of a stigmatized immigrant group. As we've noted (more than once), in Europe there is currently a strange convergence of xenophobia and cultural supremacy with secularism and feminism. Some, most notably the UK-based Iranian feminist Maryam Namazie, have started to grapple with this contradiction. And is having police patrol the streets to enforce the hijab ban in France ultimately any better than police patroling the streets to enforce the hijab in Iran or Saudi Arabia?

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  1. Nomenclature in French face-veil ban

    It has been pointed out to us by a reader that the new French law does not actually ban the hijab or head-scarf (despite much reporting to this effect)—it bans the full face-veil, the niqab or burqa. The hijab has been banned in the French public schools since the 1990s, however. Wikipedia's "Islamic scarf controversy in France" page seems (uncharacteristically) accurate and comprehensive.

  2. Europe rights court upholds France face covering ban

    The European Court of Human Rights on July 1 ruled that France's face covering ban is permissible under European law. In SAS v. France, the court ruled 15-2 that the ban, which became effective in 2011, complies with all articles of the Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and, as a result, does not violate the respondent's freedom of religion. The respondent was a Muslim who wore a niqab and a burqa, Islamic clothing articles that cover the face, as a way of expressing her faith. According to the court:

    Furthermore … by prohibiting everyone from wearing clothing designed to conceal the face in public places, the respondent State has to a certain extent restricted the reach of pluralism. … However, for their part, the Government indicated that it was a question of responding to a practice that the State deemed incompatible … with the ground rules of social communication and more broadly the requirements of "living together." From that perspective, the respondent State is seeking to protect a principle of interaction between individuals, which in its view is essential for the expression not only of pluralism, but also of tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no democratic society. It can thus be said that the question whether or not it should be permitted to wear the full-face veil in public places constitutes a choice of society.

    Two judges dissented, finding that "the criminalisation of the wearing of a full-face veil is a measure which is disproportionate to the aim of protecting the idea of 'living together."

    A French court upheld the ban in January. Since the French burqa ban took effect, many other countries tried to implement a similar ban. The Spanish Supreme Court in February 2013 struck down a city law banning the wearing of burqas. In July 2011 Belgium's burqa ban came into effect a few months after the French burqa ban took effect in April 2011.

    From Jurist, July 1. Used with permission.

  3. Secular Muslim women: don’t wear hijab in solidarity with us

    Asra Q. Nomani of the Muslim Reform Movement joins journalist Hala Arafa for a Washington Post op-ed, "As Muslim women, we actually ask you not to wear the hijab in the name of interfaith solidarity." What a sweet breath of fresh air this is. Arguably, her interpretation of the relevant Koranic verses is just as subjective as those she rejects, but not all subjectivity is equal. We are on the side of women's freedom, no? (Why do I even have to ask this? Sigh…)

    A quote providing some historical context: "In 1919, Egyptian women marched on the streets demanding the right to vote; they took off their veils, imported as a cultural tradition from the Ottoman Empire, not a religious edict. The veil then became a relic of the past." And now "progressives" in the West are on the side of those who want to turn the clock back in Egypt and the "Muslim world" (sic). WTF?

  4. Europe rights court upholds Belgium burqa ban

    The European Court of Human Rights on July 11 upheld a Belgian ban on wearing the niqab, a full-face veil, in public spaces. The court dismissed two cases, Belcacemi and Oussar v. Belgium and Dakir v. Belgium[judgments, in French], that asserted the ban was in violation of Articles 8, 9, 10 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (PDF)]. Both cases concerned women who said they chose to wear the veil of their own volition and felt the ban was discriminatory and without a "legitimate aim." (Jurist)

  5. France niqab ban violates human rights: UN committee

    The UN Human Rights Committee found Oct. 23 that the French law banning full-face coverings such as the niqab or burqa, violates human rights. The committee found that the 2010 law violated the rights Mariana Hebbad and Sonia Yaker, who brought complaints against the French government claiming violation of the right to religious freedoms protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. (Jurist)