A controversial ban on women wearing a traditional head-to-toe covering called a Burqa went into effect in France today, and French police say they have already arrested about 60 women for protesting or disregarding the ban.
Critics call the ban anti-Islamic but President Nicholas Sarkozy insists that the burqa is not a religious symbol. "It's a sign of enslavement," he told French lawmakers last year. "It will not be welcome in the French Republic."
The ban also includes the niqab, which usually covers all of the face except for the wearer's eyes (a burqa usually has a mesh section that covers the face, including the eyes). The Interior Ministry said in a statement that "The ban does not target the wearing of a headscarf, headgear, scarf or glasses, as long as the accessories do not prevent the person from being identified." The hijab, which covers only the hair and neck, and the chador, which covers the body but not the face, are apparently not banned.
Kenza Drider, 32, was the first woman arrested under the new law. "This law infringes my European rights, I cannot but defend them that is to say my freedom to come and go and my religious freedom," the mother of four told the media in front of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.
"According to this law, my wife would have to remain cloistered at home," her husband, Allal, added. "Do you find that normal? She has been wearing a veil for 13 years and it has not shocked anyone."
Women who break the law will have to pay a fine of 150 euros (about $215), and may have to do community service as part of the punishment. Penalties for forcing a woman to wear a burqa or niqab are much stiffer: a year in prison and a fine of 30,000 euros (about $43,400). If the person forced to don the religious outerwear is a minor, the fine and prison time are doubled.
Since the ban does not prohibit the wearing of the burqa or niqab in places of worship, the French Constitutional Council said the law is not unconstitutional and does not prevent the free exercise of religion.
"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, CNN reported.
The law is official called "a bill to forbid concealing one's face in public," and lawmakers have said that it was passed for security reasons. Though France is home to 5 million to 6 million Muslims (one of the largest Muslim populations in Western Europe), officials there estimate that only about 2,000 women wear the niqab or the burqa in France.
Shine readers, what do you think? Does banning the burqa protect women from "enslavement," or promote an anti-Muslim attitude?
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