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From Monday, women wearing the full Islamic veil in France could be fined up to 150 euros and ordered to attend “re-education” courses. The law has already sparked unrest, with police arresting 61 protesters against the law in Paris on Saturday.
A controversial law banning the full veil in public places in France came into force on Monday.
Critics say the law stigmatizes Muslims – while its defenders insist the veils are an affront to principles of gender equality and secularism.
Critics believe the law is motivated by racism and an attempt by the embattled government of French President Nicolas Sarkozy to win back voters from the far-right National Front (FN). They argue that the niqab-wearing population is too small to justify such a law – France has the largest Muslim population in Europe, standing at five million, but only 5,000 women are estimated to wear the full veil.
Kenza Drider, wearing the niqab, told FRANCE 24 that she had been attacked and subjected to racial slurs since the start of the debate on the veil ban last summer.
“This law is Islamophobic and racist,” she said. “My life now consists of hateful looks and insults.”
Drider, who insists she will continue to wear her veil, added: “It’s a matter of freedom of religion, of conscience. These rights are protected by European law.
The law has already caused trouble. French police on Saturday arrested 61 people, including 19 women, who were trying to organize an illegal demonstration in Paris against the law.
Under the new rules, anyone (male or female) who constantly covers their face in public places can be fined 150 euros, although the police do not have the power to forcibly remove the face veil. a woman.
Violators may also be taken to the police station for verification of their identity. In addition to imposing fines, the police can also order headscarf wearers to attend “re-education” courses.
The law takes a much harsher stance against people who force others to cover themselves by “abuse of authority or power”, with fines of 30,000 euros and prison terms of up to a year.
A ministerial directive issued earlier this month clarified that the wearing of the veil is prohibited in all places open to the public, including parks, shops, cinemas, restaurants and public transport.
The face, however, can be covered at home, in hotel rooms, on company premises, in private vehicles and in places of worship.
French police fear the law will be difficult to enforce and cause tension in immigrant neighborhoods.
The law comes into effect as Sarkozy’s popularity suffers ahead of parliamentary and legislative elections next year.
Last summer, as Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party was rocked by embarrassing scandals, the president championed anti-niqab legislation, saying it was “not welcome” in France.
His party has also launched a national debate on the role of Islam in this resolutely secular country.
Despite these efforts, the FN is gaining ground. A recent opinion poll places its leader Marine Le Pen ahead of Sarkozy in the first round of a presidential election.