Attack on Religious Freedom: French Police Detain Women Wearing Islamic Veils as Burqa Ban Begins
Police in Paris have detained two women wearing veils at a protest as the country’s highly controversial ban on Islamic face coverings goes into effect, the Guardian reports.
About a dozen people gathered for the protest today in front of the iconic Notre Dame cathedral in central Paris. Two men and two women were herded into a police van; an officer claimed the group was arrested because the protest was unauthorized and the demonstrators refused to disperse.
A nationwide ban on burqas and niqabs in public places went into effect today, with violators facing fines of €150 ($217) or lessons in French citizenship. The center-right government of Nicolas Sarkozy supports the measure, which comes amid growing unease among many French people over the influx of Muslim immigrants.
There are an estimated 5 million Muslims in France, out of a total population of just under 63 million.
Today’s detentions come two days after 61 people were arrested at an unauthorized protest against the veil ban.
The timing of the ban couldn’t be worse. The Guardian reports that France’s ruling UMP party has called a debate on the role of Islam in French society, similar in its discriminatory tone to the recent hearings on radical Islam in the United States chaired by Rep. Peter King (R-NY). President Sarkozy has publicly declared that multiculturalism “is a failure” and that France’s Muslims can only practice their religion if it is a “French Islam.”
Muslims the world over are incensed at the French veil ban, the first of its kind anywhere in the world. “The street is the universal home of freedom and nobody should challenge that so long as these women are not impinging on anyone else’s freedom,” Rachid Nekkaz, a wealthy Muslim real estate dealer told the Guardian. “I am calling on all free women who so wish to wear the veil in the street and engage in civil disobedience,” he added.
Moral Low Ground supports neither Islamic veils nor laws banning them, but firmly believes that all people should be free to practice their religion as long as they do so in a manner that does not harm others. Proponents of the ban say that a strict separation of church (or, in this case, mosque) and state is a necessary prerequisite for a harmonious civil society. But are there not Christmas trees in public squares in France? Are there not Christmas decorations in the most prominent public areas? Do French Christians not wear jewelry adorned with Christian symbols? In Alsace and Moselle, two French departments still under treaty with the Vatican, Christian and Jewish leaders are actually paid by the French government and religious classes are taught in public schools. Separation of church and state indeed!
If France was serious about true separation of religion and state, it wouldn’t single out Muslim women for persecution. It would ban all religious symbols from the public arena and stop paying the salaries of religious leaders. But the country’s discriminatory ban on Islamic veils proves that France doesn’t have a problem with all religions; just one. And that’s why we have a problem with the ban.
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