CAIRO – Hopes of France’s Muslims that the new Socialist rulers would end restrictions on their religious freedoms are turning into desperate feelings after ignoring their calls to end a ban on face-veil.
"Since the ban came in we have experienced unpleasant attention from the police,” Salima Kader, a 38-year-old mother-of-three who lives in the Paris suburb of Evry, and who continues to wear a face-veil, told The Guardian.
“But it is the hatred which comes from other people that makes it worse.”
Last year, France enacted a law to ban the wearing of the full face-veil (niqab or burqa) in public places.
Offenders are fined 150 euros ($189) or required to take part in a citizenship class.
But the law has been surrounded by controversy since it came into effect.
The legislation, proposed by former president Nicolas Sarkozy for “security reasons”, was condemned as unfairly stigmatizing the Muslim minority, the largest in Europe.
The law was opposed by the Socialists, who described the ban as the cloak for prejudice against Muslims.
This has raised hopes among French Muslims that the election of Socialist leader Francois Hollande as France’s president would lead to an end to the ban.
But the hopes of many Muslims have now turned into desperation.
Ahead of the second round of elections, Holland, the then presidential candidate frontrunner, confirmed that he would uphold the burqa ban.
However, Muslims have retained their hopes that the ban would come to an end, looking forward to Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, who was appointed as minister for women’s rights and official spokesperson for the government, to reverse it.
However, the Muslim minister preferred to focus on other issues like ending prostitution since she was appointed last May.
She also invited the anger of French Muslims for failing to introduce more realistic measures that would be seen more favorably by the sizable minority, such as building mosques or women-only swimming sessions in public pools.
Facing continuous harassment, burqa-clad Muslim women condemn the ban as an official authorization to insult the religious minority.
“They think the ban is official authorization to insult, spit at and even physically assault,” Kader said.
“The ban has become a symbol of hate against all Muslim communities.”
While hijab is an obligatory code of dress for Muslim women, the majority of Muslim scholars agree that a woman is not obliged to wear the face veil.
Scholars believe it is up to women to decide whether to take on the face-veil or burqa, a loose outfit covering the whole body from head to toe and wore by some Muslim women.
Last April, Amnesty International issued a report criticizing France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland for discriminating against their Muslim minorities.
The London-based group said several European countries have made policy decisions in recent years that discriminate against their Muslim citizens, citing bans on face-veils and other religious symbols in schools as being among the most damaging measures.
A poll by French paper Le Fegaro suggests that an overwhelming majority of Muslims voted for Hollande’s Socialist party, including some Muslim women who wanted an end to the state’s intrusive policies like the burqa ban.
“The Socialists could get rid of the burqa ban with the stroke of a pen,” said Sonia Choukri, a 23-year-old student from Marseille.“They have a huge majority in Parliament.”
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