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French ban on face covering:
The French ban on face covering is an act of parliament passed by the Senate of France on 14 September 2010, resulting in the ban on the wearing of face-covering headgear, including masks, helmets, balaclava, niqābs and other veils covering the face in public places, except under specified circumstances.
The ban also applies to the burqa, a full-body covering, if it covers the face. The bill had previously been passed by the National Assembly of France on 13 July 2010.
The key argument supporting this proposal is that face-coverings prevent the clear identification of a person, which is both a security risk, and a social hindrance within a society which relies on facial recognition and expression in communication. The key argument against the ban is that it encroaches on individual freedoms. Many Muslim women have claimed that the ban "stigmatises one gender of one religion – Muslim women".
As of 11 April 2011, it is illegal to wear a face-covering veil or other headwear in public places such as the street, shops, museums, public transportation, and parks.
The law applies to all citizens, including men and non-Muslims, who may not cover their face in public except where specifically provided by law such as motor-bike riders and safety workers and during established occasional events such as some carnivals.
As a result of the law, the only exceptions to a woman wearing a niqāb in public will be if she is travelling in a private car or worshiping in a religious place.
Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian-born journalist (based in New York) who calls herself a liberal, a Muslim and a feminist supports the ban:
I support banning the burqa because I believe it equates piety with the disappearance of women. The closer you are to God, the less I see of you — and I find that idea extremely dangerous. It comes from an ideology that basically wants to hide women away. What really strikes me is that a lot of people say that they support a woman’s right to choose to wear a burqa because it’s her natural right. But I often tell them that what they’re doing is supporting an ideology that does not believe in a woman’s right to do anything. We’re talking about women who cannot travel alone, cannot drive, cannot even go into a hospital without a man with them. And yet there is basically one right that we are fighting for these women to have, and that is the right to cover their faces. To tell you the truth, I’m really outraged that people get into these huge fights and say that as a feminist you must support a women’s right to do this, because it’s basically the only kind of "right" that this ideology wants to give women. Otherwise they get nothing.
According to Judith Sunderland, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch:
“We are aware that there are cultural and religious practices around the world that violate women’s rights, and policies of forced veiling in certain regions clearly violate women’s rights to autonomy and to freedom of choice," she said.
"But the bans on wearing the full-face veil in all public places also violate women’s rights to autonomy and to freedom of religion, thought and expression,"
Some have alluded to security concerns with regard to permitting full Islamic veils in public. And there are stories, such as this one in the Telegraph last year, that seem to lend credence to those concerns:
Burka-wearing gunmen raid French bank:
Two burka-wearing bank robbers have pulled off a heist near Paris using a handgun concealed beneath their full Islamic veil.
Employees let the pair through the security double doors of the banking branch of a post office, believing them to be Muslim women. But once inside, the men flipped back their head coverings and pulled out a gun, officials said.
They seized 4,500 euros (£4,000) in cash, according to staff at the branch in Athis Mons, just south of Paris, and made their getaway.
So, is this newly implemented law in France a violation of human rights? Or are the French authorities justified in imposing this law?
If you are an open minded person whose opinions are formed on the basis of science, logic, and reason and are interested in meeting like-minded individuals – you are welcome to join us at the meeting.
The April 2011 Freethinkers’ Night is going to take place on Thursday, 28th April at 4 Points Bar & Restaurant, Centenary Park, Kampala, starting 6PM. Entrance is FREE.