French laws against Muslim women with face covers contrast sharply with its pandemic policy. Is it a double standard?
Division and hatred are the usual results when so-called civilized societies get involved in debates over face coverings.
Whether it’s Boris Johnson describing women in burqas as “looking like mailboxes” or “bank robbers” when he was a Conservative backbencher, or French socialist Laurence Rossignol comparing them to “negroes who have supported slavery ”, the tone is always ugly in the extreme.
So vitriolic, in fact, that ten years ago, it seemed like all the power of the Paris establishment was aimed at criminalizing anyone who wanted to hide their most important traits in public places.
A ban introduced to the international brass band in 2010 applied nominally to “any face covering”, including headgear such as winter hoods and motorcycle helmets, but the real purpose was niqab – a black garment draped over everything except the eyes and hands, and worn mainly by a very small minority of Muslim women.
Misleading arguments ranging from “protecting national security” to “liberating women in a secular society” were put forward by deceptive politicians during parliamentary sessions. They also insisted that covering your face was an affront to “live it together– literally “living together” and the ideological basis for a harmonious existence in democratic societies.
The conservative president with a mandate, Nicolas Sarkozy, declared with the usual casualness: “In our country, we cannot accept women detained behind a screen, cut off from any social life, deprived of any identity. It is not our idea of freedom. “
How banal and misguided these words are today, as France and Britain slowly introduce the massive wearing of masks in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Rather than an existential threat – which dehumanizes carriers – concealment is now seen as a means of preventing contagion, and therefore helping to ensure survival.
In France – where more than 27,000 people died from Covid-19 – anyone caught without a mask on public transport now faces a fine of 135 euros ($ 146). Students must wear them and traders are allowed to refuse service to those who do not have them.
Yet – and that says a lot about the venom that underlies the 2010 legislation –any Muslim woman in a niqabStill faces a fine of 150 euros ($ 162) and compulsory attendance at a citizenship course. If arrested in a Paris metro station, for example, without a more conventional mask, she could consequently receive a combined fine of 285 euros ($ 308) – a penalty that would multiply for repeat offenses.
Those who do not have the right face will also continue to be openly stigmatized, and not only by police officers who have issued thousands of euros in fines since 2011. Physical attacks against those who wear a niqab persist and verbal abuse is even more common.
More than that, the so-called ban on the burqa – named for a full garment more common in Afghanistan but rarely seen in France – has had a predictable pernicious effect on all Muslim communities.
The ban has become a practical tool for agenda-led politicians and their legions of propagandists, including top writers and pop philosophers, who want to use whatever they can to spread collective guilt against some five million followers of Islam in France.
Xenophobic tactics are expanding to connect the small number of women who wear niqab – estimates vary between 400 and 2000 maximum – to as many criminal threats as possible, from beatings of women to bank robbery and terrorism.
No evidence has ever been produced to prove that those who wear the clothing are causing harm. Suffice it to say, while associating clothing with “foreign” groups, whether they are from former French colonies in North Africa or they are refugees fleeing from countries torn apart by the wars pursued by the western armed forces.
There have of course been cases where husbands have forced their spouses to cover themselves – domestic violence is unfortunately all too common in all types of households – but there were already many laws authorizing the police to deal with such. crimes without resorting to looted Muslims.
Now, rather than being part of the Islamophobic attack in which the right and left sides of the French political spectrum have collaborated, face masks are supposed to signify security and unity.
The fines introduced for the use of force will certainly be concentrated on poor commuters – including cleaners and manual workers – traveling to cities from the areas where most Muslims live. These are the areas where complaints of racism and police brutality increased during the coronavirus lockdown, when heavy-duty officers attack suspects, causing serious injury and death.
Three police officers in Béziers – a town in the south headed by a notoriously Islamophobic mayor – face criminal charges following the sudden death in police custody of a father of three children of Muslim Arab origin.
As the world adjusts to living with the horror of the coronavirus, many commentators have expressed the hope that more tolerant societies may emerge from the global crisis.
If France’s contrasting approach to mask wearers is one thing to follow, the republic will not be one of these newly enlightened nations./ Fr.24