It was never going to work. There are parts of Paris where no policeman dares to go, let alone try to enforce the law. Islam rules:
“This is a sensitive neighbourhood,” she surmised. “It’d be a problem for the police.”
The Star.comÂ (thanks to Vlad Tepes)
Many women in France wear the veil?
Â But why are we told its only a tiny minority of excremists?
VÃ‰NISSIEUX, FRANCEâ€”It’s an unusually warm, spring morning in Venissieux, a downtrodden suburb of Lyon, and Fadela, 23, covered from head to toe in a black niqab, her black gloves adorned with elegant flower stitching, is walking with her friend Najet to the discount market called Ed.
A police car passes but does not stop. Fadela says that’s not unusual. “This is a sensitive neighbourhood,” she surmised. “It’d be a problem for the police.”
In fact, Fadela, who agreed to be interviewed on condition her real name not be used, said police have never told her to uncover her face.
Nearly one year after France implemented its controversialÂ ban on wearing the Islamic veilâ€” a niqab or burka â€” in public, a surprising fact has emerged. It appears that few women have actually removed their veils to obey the law.
As theÂ presidential election in FranceÂ approaches, and Islam and Muslim integration are top of mind, critics say the law was an exercise in pleasing the electorate, in “marketing,” while further stigmatizing Muslims.
It didn’t take a visitor to the Les Minguettes neighbourhood of VÃ©nissieux long to observe the widespread non-compliance.
Upon emerging from the subway at VÃ©nissieux station, a niqab-wearing woman walked in from the opposite direction, accompanied by a man. On the tram platform outside, two niqab-wearers waited, chatting. And in Les Minguettes, they were not the norm, but neither were they hard to find.
“Not much has changed, we still see the burka. There are not more, there are not less,” one high-level municipal government official in the area told theÂ Star.
VÃ©nissieux is the place where the idea for the law first originated, with AndrÃ© GÃ©rin, then the Communist mayor and soon-to-be-retired National Assembly member.
GÃ©rin disputed French government numbers that 2,000 women in the country wore niqabs. With so many in his community alone, he thought there were many more. He saw Islamic extremism at work and thought women’s rights were at risk.
Today, GÃ©rin says he has “no idea” how many women have chosen to take off their veils as a result of the law. He compares those who don’t to people who walk on the grass in parks when it’s prohibited.
“It’s a symbolic law,” he said in an interview. “What’s important for me is it’s a law of liberation for women.”
He called niqabs the “tip of the iceberg” of Islamic extremism. Before the law went into effect on April 11, 2011, aggressive men were yelling at government clerks who demanded a woman identify herself, he said. Women were refusing to be examined by male doctors.
Behind the veil, he said, there are often “young women living a life of hell.” All of which, he added, is “in contradiction with our culture.”
According to numbers compiled by the union of police chiefs, the SCPN, there have been 335 people taken in for questioning by the police. About 300 have been issued fines, which top out at 150 euros (about $200).
“It means they are refusing to remove the veil,” said Emmanuel Roux, the union’s deputy secretary general. “It’s false to say the law has resolved the problem. The proof is that we have more than 300 people in contact with the police.”
For Roux, “This is not a police problem. We are the end of the law, on the ground, in contact with the people. But this is a problem of integration, of pedagogy, sociology, and acculturation.”
“It means there is a law but no one applies it,” said the government official in Les Minguettes. The official, who asked not to be named due to the subject’s sensitivity, said the law was discriminatory because it limited a person’s individual freedoms in public.
Roux acknowledged police have discretion as to how they apply it but disagreed police are not applying the law.
Given the controversial and political nature of the law, however, it can be a touchy affair for police. Last December in Evry, a town south of Paris, two officers were slightly injured when a group of young men intervened as they tried to fine a woman in a niqab.
Les Minguettes is not just ground zero for the niqab debate in France, it’s also infamous in France as the place where the first “banlieue” riots broke out in the 1980s. Banlieues are synonymous with the poor suburbs tilted heavy with what are called as people of “immigrant extraction.”
In France, the law prohibits statistics based on race, and so while nobody knows what percentage of the population is of immigrant extraction, some say it’s up to 80 per cent.
Rachid Nekkaz has had families from all over France contact him to pay their fines. And the Paris developer, businessman and political provocateur with Algerian roots promised to do so. He’s also helping two French women appeal their convictions. They will go as high as the European Court of Human Rights if need be, he vowed.
It’s not that he’s pro-niqab. In fact, Nekkaz agrees it should be restricted in spaces such as banks and schools where identification is a security issue. “But in public,” he maintained, “people should be able to dress as they want.”
Most of the women who wear niqabs are not forced to do so by their husbands, he claims. “Seventy-eight per cent are single or divorced,” he said.
The law also stipulates a heavy fine, even jail time, for a man who forces his wife or a minor, and none have been prosecuted thus far, he notes. “The law is to please the French people, and to make Muslims afraid.”
Nekkaz said he knows of some women who have decided to remove the veil, but they are few.
In Les Minguettes, one woman says she knows of several others who have left France for their home countries because of the law.
For Fadela, “it’s an obligation,” in Islam. “If she doesn’t wear it, it’s like she is naked,” her friend Najet, 22, interjected. Najet doesn’t wear a niqab, but she would if her parents let her. “It is my dream,” she declared.
Fadela says that in the past, she used to party and wear miniskirts. But now she is “at peace.” And in her neighbourhood, she’s never bothered by authorities.
However, just a few days ago she was ordered to remove her veil at Lyon’s main airport, and when she put it back on afterwards, she was “chased and screamed at” by personnel there. They recorded her name and let her go.
“I felt heartsick,” Fadela said. “But this is France. It’s like that.”