French Muslim women on the decision to ban the burqa: “All I want is to live in peace” | France


Anti-discrimination organizations expressed outrage after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that France has the right to ban women from wearing the full veil in public in the interests of everyone “Living together”.

The judges ruled that the contested ban affected a group of Muslim women but did not take away their freedom to wear public clothing or items that did not hide their faces.

“The question of accepting or not that the full veil can be worn in public is a choice of society,” they ruled on Tuesday.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of the UK human rights lobby group Liberty, said the ban “has nothing to do with gender equality and everything to do with the rise of racism in Western Europe.”

She added, “How do you free women by criminalizing their clothes? If you suspect bruises under a burqa, why punish the victim, and if you disapprove of the wearer’s choices, how does banning them from public engagement promote liberal attitudes?

The law, active in France and Belgium and known as the “burqa ban”, was introduced in 2010 and prohibits anyone from “covering their face” in a public place. French government lawyers argued – with success – before the Strasbourg court that the ban also applied to balaclavas and balaclavas.

Stéphanie Lécuyer, 39, a law student, who lives in Nice with her daughter, and who wears the niqab in public after converting to Islam 21 years ago, said: “I am so upset. I didn’t expect the court to lift the ban, but I hoped they would change the law.

“Maybe now is not the time to comment. Everything is too raw and emotional. I am still in shock. I have been wearing the niqab for many years and all I want is to live in peace. It has never been a hindrance for me in my life, I know clothes are not considered moderate, but I am very moderate.

“If I’m going somewhere and need to show my face for safety’s sake, I do. It really has never been a problem. Surely more important things are happening in the world, things are happening. terrible in the name of religion, some of these things in the name of Islam, but it’s all more important than that? “

Izza Leghtas, Western Europe researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the judgment was disappointing. “Bans like this violate the rights of women who choose to wear the veil and do little to protect those forced to do so, as do laws in other countries requiring women to dress in a particular way.” violate their rights to freedom of religion and expression. “

Tuesday’s case was brought by a 24-year-old French woman, who was not named but was described as being of Pakistani origin, who wore a burqa, which covers the entire head and body, and a niqab , which leaves only the eyes uncovered.

She was represented by British lawyers from Birmingham, who said the headscarf ban violated six articles of the European Convention on Human Rights. It was, according to them, “inhuman and degrading, against the right to respect for family and private life, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of expression and discrimination”.

The court heard that the law affects a small number of women; out of around 5 million Muslims living in France – the exact figure is unknown because it is illegal to collect data by religion or ethnic group – only around 1,900 women were affected by the ban in 2009. French officials told judges that this figure had since halved “thanks to a major public information campaign carried out at the time”.

The court admitted that the blanket ban might seem like an overreaction to a small problem and said it was “extremely worried” by Islamophobic statements made during the parliamentary debate.

“This ban has a very strong negative impact on the situation of women who have chosen to wear the full veil for reasons related to their convictions,” said the judges, adding that the legislation had “risked to contribute and consolidate stereotypes affecting certain categories of people and encouraging expressions of intolerance ”.

The complainant, identified only by the initials SAS, was described as a “perfect French citizen with a university education … who speaks of her republic with passion”.

Her lawyer, Tony Muman, told the European Court (ECHR) last November: “She is a patriot”, adding that she had not been subjected to “absolutely no pressure” from her family or relatives to carry the burqa and was ready to uncover her face to identify herself. checks, but insists on the right to wear the veil.

The European judges decided otherwise, declaring that the preservation of a certain idea of ​​“living together” was the “legitimate aim” of the French authorities.

Isabelle Niedlispacher, representing the Belgian authorities who introduced a similar ban on the full-face veil in 2011 and who were part of the French defense, declared the burqa and niqab incompatible with the rule of law.

Beyond issues of security and equality, she said: “It is about social communication, the right to interact with someone by looking them in the face and not to disappear under clothing.”

French and Belgian laws were aimed at “helping everyone to integrate,” she said.

The ECHR has already confirmed France’s ban on headscarves in educational establishments, and its regulations requiring the removal of scarves, veils and turbans for security checks.

Tuesday’s court decision came days after France’s highest court, the Cour de Cassation, confirmed the dismissal of a nursery worker for “serious misconduct” after arriving at work wearing a veil. The woman said she would appeal the decision to the ECHR.

Jonathan Birchall, of the Open Society Foundations created by billionaire financier George Soros, said: “We are all rather shocked by today’s decision on the burqa ban… the court seems to have invented a new concept legal to justify the ban.

He said the German and Swedish ECHR judges had already issued “scathing” decisions on the concept of living together, declaring it “far-fetched and vague”.

“The concept of living together is not directly related to any of the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the (human rights) convention,” they wrote.

“It is true that“ living together ”requires the possibility of interpersonal exchanges. It is also true that the face plays an important role in human interaction. the whole face is not shown.

“Examples of this are well rooted in European culture, such as skiing and motorcycling with full-face helmets and the wearing of costumes at carnivals. No one would claim that in such situations (which are part of the exceptions provided for in French law) the minimum requirements of life in society are not met. People can socialize without necessarily looking each other in the eye.


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