Let Me See Your Pretty Face
“Citizenship should be experienced with an uncovered face.”
So said French President Nicholas Sarkozy, addressing theFrench cabinet on Wednesday, when it approved a draft law banning the wearingof full-face veils in public places. The draft law will go before Parliamentfor a vote in July. Last month politicians in Belgium overwhelmingly voted infavor of a ban on full-face veils. France had previously banned headscarves andother ‘ostentatious religious symbols’ in 2004.
The new French bill would create brand new offenses, such as‘incitingto hide the face,’ which carries a fine of $18,555 for anyone convicted offorcing a woman to wear a full-face veil.
The reaction from the Muslim community has been varied.Al-Jazeera carries a quote from Taj Hargey,chairman of the Muslim EducationalCentre in Oxford, UK, who said that:
“Muslims needs to adjustand adapt to Western society. There is no reason why women should cover theirfaces because it is not an Islamic requirement. If we enter a public domain, weneed to follow the public rules and that means showing our faces."
Many Muslims have reportedly said that if arrested, they wouldtake their case to the European Court of Human Rights, because the ECHRprotects the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Article 9).
However, the Court’s jurisprudence on headscarves has beenless than favorable. For example, the applicant in Sahin v Turkey was a universitystudent who alleged that her school’s requirement that her ID photo be takenwithout her headscarf violated her Article 9 rights. The Court, however,decided in Turkey’s favor, as they had argued that the limiting of religioussymbols was necessary to uphold to secular nature of the Turkish democracy.
It may not get that far – apparently the draft law runs therisk of violating the French Constitution long before it ever gets the changeto violate the ECHR.
The question has to be asked about the real purpose of thesebans – are they to ‘uphold the secular nature of the state,’ as politicians andsupporters claim, or will they only serve to stigmatize an increasinglyisolated Muslim population?
Surely, democracy is as much about pluralism as it is aboutsecularism. Non?
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.