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Less than five months before a French ban on the Islamic veil went into effect, two separate French court rulings on Monday brought the controversial issue to the fore and offered a sample of the legal and social challenges ahead.
Two court rulings handed down on Monday brought the controversial issue of Islam’s place in French secular society back to the forefront. They offer insight into the legal challenges that are likely to surface when a ban on full-face clothing goes into effect in April next year.
In September, the French parliament approved a law banning the wearing of the full-face veil in public and which the government says will protect women from the forced wearing of Muslim veils such as the burqa or the niqab. France’s highest judicial authority has declared the law to be constitutionally sound.
But two separate trials have illustrated that the legal battles over the veil are only beginning to unravel in France.
In the town of Mantes-la-Jolie (north), lawyers for a community nursery school claimed “a victory for the laity”, after the local labor relations commission confirmed the school’s decision to dismiss an employee who refused to take away her entire face and body. Islamic veil at work.
The worker assigned the nursery school for 80,000 euros, claiming an unfair dismissal. In a surprising twist, the accused’s attorney did not argue that his client was a victim of religious discrimination, but rather that she had always worn the garment and that the school had changed its policy. The nursery school insisted that its “non-religious” character is clearly stated in its charter.
Some 400 km away, a court in the city of Nantes (east) annulled a traffic fine imposed on a driver wearing the full Islamic veil. This contradicted the local police report that the woman did not have a clear field of vision and was therefore in violation of the rules governing French drivers.
Jean-Michel Pollono, the lawyer for the accused, welcomed the decision by saying: “We are in a free country, and therefore, anything that is not prohibited is allowed”. , could now drive with a niqab.
The decisions have left analysts perplexed whether driving a car is a public or private exercise, and how such a case would be different if the proceedings took place in April 2011, once the new anti-veil ban goes into effect.
Vincent Geisser, French sociologist and author of the book We Are French and Muslims, argues that French courts will be at the center of an inevitable battle against Islam in France.
A sense of victimization among Muslims in France has intensified in recent years, as demonstrated by reactions on Monday to public remarks by far-right leader Marine Le Pen comparing French Muslims praying in the streets to the occupation Nazi.
“The trials are just a visible symptom of a deeper and more widespread malaise,” Geisser explained. According to the writer, who fears that the new ban will prove to be counterproductive and in fact increase the number of women wearing the full veil in France, the burqa and the niqab will be at the center of court cases more and more frequently.
“A first trend in cases brought to court will be carried by people obsessed with the idea that Muslims are responsible for France’s problems, and will be linked to cases in schools and hospitals,” predicts Geisser. “A second trend will come from a new generation of Muslims born in France and who will know how to appeal to justice to protect themselves.
The new law provides for fines of 150 euros or / and citizenship courses for any woman, including tourists, caught covering their face. It also carries much heavier penalties for anyone, such as husbands or brothers, found guilty of forcing the veil on a woman.