Monday, April 11, 2011

Police given powers to remove burqa or niqab in France

On Monday 11th April 2011 the French Police will become the first officers in Europe with the power to intercept Muslim women wearing full-face veils and to threaten them with fines if they refuse to expose their faces.

French officials estimate that only around 2,000 women, from a total Muslim population estimated at between four and six million wear a burqa (burka) or a niqab. A woman who repeatedly insists on appearing veiled in public can be fined 150 Euros (about £133 or $217) and ordered to attend re-education classes.

There are much more severe penalties for anyone found guilty of forcing someone else to hide his or her face "through threats, violence, constraint, abuse of authority or power for reason of their gender".

Clearly aimed at fathers, husbands or religious leaders who force women to wear face-veils, and applicable to offences committed in public or in private, the law imposes a fine of 30,000 Euros and a year in jail.
France's main Muslim representative body, the CFCM, partially agreed with the President, issuing a statement arguing that insisting upon a niqab or a burqa was an "extremist" reading of the Koran and not a "religious obligation".

The law comes into effect at an already fraught moment in relations between the state and France's Muslim minority, with President Nicolas Sarkozy accused of stigmatising Islam to win back votes from a resurgent far right.

Ms. Le Pen, leader of the National Front who has been playing on immigration concerns, would come in first if the first round of presidential elections were held now, ahead of Mr. Sarkozy. See more about this

Many supporters of the law have defended it as a measure not designed to harm Islam, but to support a woman's right to walk unveiled, although the text makes it clear that a woman can not choose herself to cover her face in public.

But many Muslims and rights watchdogs accuse Sarkozy of targeting one of France's most vulnerable and isolated groups to signal to anti-immigration voters that he shares their fear that Islam is a threat to French culture.

While some other countries and territories have drawn up bans on the burqa and the niqab, France, the home to Europe's largest Muslim population will be the first to risk stirring social tensions by putting one into practice.

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