VÃNISSIEUX, FRANCE â It’s an unusually warm spring morning in Venissieux, an underprivileged suburb of Lyon, and Fadela, 23, covered head to toe in a black niqab, her black gloves adorned with elegant floral stitching, walks with her friend Najet to the discount market called Ed.
A police car passes but does not stop. Fadela says this is not unusual. “It’s a sensitive neighborhood,” she supposed. “It would be a problem for the police.”
In fact, Fadela, who agreed to be questioned on condition that her real name was not used, said police never told her to uncover her face.
Almost a year after France implemented its controversial ban on wearing the Islamic veil – a niqab or burka – in public, a surprising fact has emerged. It seems that few women have actually taken off their veils to obey the law.
As the presidential election in France approaches, and Islam and Muslim integration are a priority, critics say the law was a voter-pleasing exercise, in “marketing,” while further stigmatizing Muslims.
It did not take long for a visitor to the Les Minguettes district of VÃ©nissieux to notice the widespread disrespect.
When exiting the metro at VÃ©nissieux station, a woman in a niqab entered in the opposite direction, accompanied by a man. On the streetcar platform outside, two niqab wearers waited, chatting. And at Les Minguettes, they weren’t the norm, but they weren’t hard to find either.
âNot much has changed, we still see the burqa. There are not more, there are not less, âsaid a senior municipal government official in the region. Star.
VÃ©nissieux is the place where the idea of ââthe law was born, with AndrÃ© GÃ©rin, then Communist mayor and future member of the National Assembly.
GÃ©rin disputed figures from the French government that 2,000 women in the country wore niqabs. With so many people in his community alone, he thought there were a lot more. He saw Islamic extremism at work and believed that women’s rights were under threat.
Today, GÃ©rin says he has “no idea” how many women have chosen to remove their veils because of the law. He compares those who do not to those who walk on grass in parks when it is prohibited.
“It is a symbolic law,” he said in an interview. “What is important to me is that this is a liberation law for women.”
He called the niqabs the “tip of the iceberg” of Islamic extremism. Before the law came into force on April 11, 2011, aggressive men were yelling at government employees who asked a woman to identify themselves, he said. The women refused to be examined by male doctors.
Behind the veil, he says, there are often “young women who live hellish lives.” All of this, he added, is “at odds with our culture.”
According to figures compiled by the union of police commissioners, the SCPN, 335 people were arrested by the police. About 300 were fined, which capped at 150 euros (about $ 200).
“This means that they refuse to remove the veil,” said Emmanuel Roux, deputy general secretary of the union. âIt is wrong to say that the law solved the problem. The proof, we have more than 300 people in contact with the police.
For Roux, âIt’s not a problem with the police. We are the end of the law, in the field, in contact with people. But it is a problem of integration, pedagogy, sociology and acculturation.
“This means that there is a law but that no one is applying it,” said the government official at Les Minguettes. The official, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the subject, said the law was discriminatory because it limited a person’s individual freedoms in public.
Roux acknowledged that the police had the discretion to apply it, but the police disagreed with the application of the law.
However, given the controversial and political nature of the law, this can be a delicate matter for the police. Last December, in Evry, a town south of Paris, two police 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 only the zero point of the niqab debate in France, it is also infamous in France as the place where the first âsuburbanâ riots broke out in the 1980s. Suburbs are synonymous with suburbs poor leaning heavily with so-called “immigrant” people.
In France, the law prohibits statistics based on race, and while no one knows what percentage of the population is of immigrant origin, some say it goes as high as 80%.
Rachid Nekkaz has been contacted by families from all over France to pay their fines. And the Parisian promoter, businessman and political provocateur of Algerian origin has promised to do so. He also helps two French women to appeal their convictions. They will go to the European Court of Human Rights if need be, he promised.
It’s not that he’s pro-niqab. In fact, Nekkaz agrees that this should be limited in spaces such as banks and schools where identification is a security concern. “But in public,” he argued, “people should be able to dress however they want.”
Most women who wear the niqab are not required to do so by their husbands, he says. âSeventy-eight percent are single or divorced,â he said.
The law also provides for a heavy fine, or even jail time, for a man forcing his wife or a minor, and none have been prosecuted so far, he notes. âThe law is to please the French and to scare the Muslims. “
Nekkaz said he knows some of the women who have decided to remove the veil, but there are not many of them.
In Les Minguettes, a woman says she knows several others who have left France for their country of origin because of the law.
For Fadela, “it is an obligation” in Islam. “If she’s not wearing it, it’s like she’s naked,” added her friend Najet, 22. Najet doesn’t wear a niqab, but she would if her parents let her. âThis is my dream,â she said.
Fadela says that in the past she used to party and wear mini skirts. But now she is “at peace”. And in her neighborhood, she is never disturbed by the authorities.
However, just a few days ago, she was ordered to remove her veil at the main airport in Lyon, and when she put it back on, she was “chased and yelled at”. by the staff on site. They recorded her name and let her go.
âI was heartbroken,â Fadela said. âBut it’s France. It’s like that.”