France‘s ban on face-covering Muslim veils, like the niqab and the burqa, took effect yesterday. French citizens and tourists alike will be fined $215 for covering their faces in public or they must attend a class on French citizenship. Anyone who forced a woman to wear a veil in public faces a year in prison and a $43,000 fine — and fines are steeper if the person being forced to wear a veil is a minor. Muslim students are already banned from wearing headscarves in classrooms.
At least two women were taken in by police yesterday for daring to cover their faces with Islamic veils in public and a 27-year-old woman received the country’s first-ever fine for wearing a veil.French President Nicolas Sarkozy has claimed the “burqa ban” would send a message that women should not cover their faces in public because men and women are equal. But many say the ban on Muslim veils is outright racism, encouraging Islamophobia to try to coalesce a French national identity that is white and Christian. As the Associated Press put it, “Women may bare their breasts in Cannes but not cover their faces on the Champs-Elysees.” Critics also point out that only about 2,000 women cover their faces in France, so the law seems more symbolic than anything else (especially since it takes pains to clarify that covering one’s face with motorcycle helmets or wedding veils, for instance, are still permitted.)
What do you think of France’s ban on Islamic veils? Tell us in the comments.