Burqa ban: cest une idée terrible

Having just braved the ash chaos and been to Paris for a few days I was struck by (1) how quiet Paris was at night (no jets overhead, just pigeons cooing in Arr16 where I was) and (2) how multicultural (multiculturel) it is.

Even compared to London I think it’s very mixed. In the Saint-Ouen area up above arrondissement 20, for example, the rough and ready border zones of the massive flea market (Les Puces) are packed with second- and third-generation black Parisians, as well as multitudes of middle-eastern immigrants along Boulevard Victor Hugo and, I noticed, a few Rastas pumping out reggae rhythms in the heart of the market maelstrom itself.

Similarly, a few minutes hanging out around the nearby Porte de Clignancourt metro could convince you that almost every nationality is represented in this bit of Paris. It’s scruffy, a bit overpowering but definitely not boring or chic in a dull all-French-people-eat-crunchy-bagettes-and-walk-small-overgroomed-dogs cliché-ed way.

Which …. is just one reason to doubt the wisdom of a national burqa ban in France. Ditto Belgium. If women in France or Belgium want to cover their faces out of respect for religion why should governments in Paris or Brussels be seeking to ban this practice? How, exactly, is threatening veil violators with fines or even stretches in prison supposed to guarantee social harmony and cultural cohesion?

On the metro yesterday there was a man in my carriage with one of those hood-and-baseball-cap combinations pulled down so far that you couldn’t see his face. Given that his phone was playing French rap I reckon this was his particular fashion/culture statement. For sure “rap” street culture is hardly a recognised religion but I think you’d also be making a big mistake if you tried to outlaw hoodies (I think Bluewater over here tried it once, but that’s about it).

Amnesty considers a burqa ban to be a breach of international law. It would violate a woman’s right to free expression and to practise her religion as she chose. Communities or families shouldn’t be allowed to compel women to cover their faces; governments shouldn’t compel them not to. I think this is right. It is, if you like, l‘équilibre juste.

Basically, then, I think the burqa ban est une idée terrible and I think both France and Belgium ought to concentrate on slightly more important matters (sorting out their economies, that kind of thing).

Actually, strange to say, I reckon the Eiffel Tower is instead a nice indicator of how to get national cohesion and its symbols right. When they set the tower’s lights to “dazzle” on the hour every hour during the evenings the sight (even for hardened anti-tourist sceptics like me) is amazing. I reckon virtually every person in Paris probably likes this little moment of playfulness. It’s better than banning burqas anyway.

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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.
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