Banning veil or banning religion?

by andreannebou on February 8, 2016 - 10:53pm

            Paris, April 2011: a woman gets fined for wearing niqab (Chrisafis). She is the first Muslim woman to get stopped by the police in a public place since the ban on face covering was voted by the French senate in September 2010 (Robitaille). On that fall, France created a major controversy, being the first country in history to prohibit concealment of the face in public space. A battle between secularism of the collectivity and individual freedom of religion started then and has been going on since.

            Behind this drastic law, there is a whole history of laicism in French society. The concept of secularism appeared in France for the first time during the French Revolution. When people overthrowed Former Regime, they also put an end to privileges entitled to Church. From then, France continued to modernize its politics, putting Church aside gradually. In 1958, with the Constitution of France, the country oficially becomes a secular and democratic Republic (Constitution of France article 1). This Constitution was signed just before the first significative arrival of Muslims in France. Before 1960’s, where Muslims immigrated in eastern Europe essentially for labour, there were not a lot of them in the Republic. Today, there are approximately 5 million Muslims in France (Kille and Wihbey), which makes Islam the second most important religion in the country. From these 5 million, approximately 1900 Muslim women are thought to be affected by the new ban on face covering, fully covering their faces with a veil (Kille and Wihbey). For French population, no matter the political views, hostility towards integral veil seems to have general agreement, even for several moderated Muslims (Robitaille). On one side, government explains that face-covering, in addition to triggering security risks, prevents the clear identification of a person, which opposes to society’s communication based on facial recognition. Moreover, in the French’s spirit, religion is an aspect of life that should be private. On the other side, some Muslims are of the view that their rights of freedom of thought, conscience and religion are violated (Willsher). They are supported by defenders of human rights, which point out some excerpts of European rights. For instance, there is an ambiguity in article 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union: “1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right includes freedom to change religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or in private, to manifest religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.” (4) However, French government responds with the second part of article 10, which specifies that “The right to conscientious objection is recognized, in accordance with the national laws governing the exercise of this right” (4), since France has modified its legislation concerning face covering. Then, as mentioned earlier, it is also clearly specified in article 1 of French constitution that France is a secular Republic. The case has even been brought in front of the European court of human rights. Judges of the court decided to acknowledge French government, accepting the argument that “it encourages citizens to live together” (Willsher). Nevertheless, people are not totally convinced about this argument of a united society. What disturbs so much French people about the integral veil? Could this be a form of xenophobia related to France’s fear to lose its culture? How far can a community go in order to protect its own culture?

            In conclusion, France has drastically evolved from a society dominated by Catholic religion to a completely secular community. With the establishment of veil ban, it is the first country to go that far in terms of imposing uniformity in the name of laicism. This may be the result of centuries of Catholic Church’s oppression: the domination of the church could have made the French people fear extremism so much that they despise every single religious manifestation that could seem a little excessive. Could other countries follow France in this line of thoughts?


Works Cited

Chrisafis, Angelique. “French veil ban: First woman fined for wearing niqab”. The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 12 April 2011. Web. 5 Feb. 2016.

European Union. European Parliament Council Commision. Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Brussel: Official Journal of the European Union, 14 December 2007. Web. 7 Feb. 2016.

France. French National Assembly. Constitution of October 4, 1958. Paris: Journal officiel de la République française, January 2015. Web. 6 Feb. 2016.                                                    

Kille, Leighton W., and John Wihbey. “France, Islam, terrorism and the challenges of integration”. Journalist’s Resource. Harvard Kennedy School's Shorenstein Center, 16 November 2015. Web. 7 Feb. 2016.                                                                                 

Robitaille, Louis-Bernard. “La France interdit définitivement le voile intégral en public”. LaPresse. La Presse, 14 Sepember 2010. Web. 3 Feb. 2016.                                         

Willsher, Kim. “France’s burqa ban upheld by human rights court”. The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 1 July 2014. Web. 5 Feb. 2016.