On July 1, 2012, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) upheld a 2010 French law that prohibited burqas and other face-covering veils in public spaces. In 2004, the French parliament adopted a similar law prohibits headscarves in public schools. Both measures have been highly controversial. Immigration from former colonies in North and Sub-Saharan Africa has resulted in France having largest Muslim population in Europe. Many Muslim women interpret their religion to require scarves and veils in public.
After a legal action was filed by a Muslim woman challenging the burqa ban, the French courts ruled that the law did not have a disproportionate impact on Muslim women or interfere with their rights to freedom of religion. That decision was appealed to the ECHR, an international court that adjudicates cases alleging violations of human rights. The claims against France included sex, religion and ethnic origin discrimination.
The ECHR rejected the challenger's claims. It accepted France's argument that women wearing face-covering veils in public spaces could undermine social cohesion. French residents, the Court found, should not be subjected to practices that inhibit interpersonal relationships that are an "indispensable element of community life within [French] society." The ECHR conceded that the ban disproportionately affected Muslim women but, "it was not expressly based on the religious connotation of the clothing in question but solely on the fact that it concealed the face."
Contrary to the ECHR's suggestions, France's anti-veil laws discriminate against Muslim women based on their ethnicity, religion, color, and national origin. The veil laws would violate American antidiscrimination laws and the right to the free exercise of religious protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The French laws treat Muslim women differently and less favorably than similarly situated men and non-Muslim women. That many French residents consider face-covering veils an affront to their secular traditions would not provide a legal justification under American laws.
The effects of discriminatory practices in France are not limited to Muslim women. A large proportion of France's ethnic minorities are segregated in public housing complexes in the suburban communities (banlieues) that surround French cities. The banlieues are geographically isolated and ethnically distinct from surrounding communities. Many of the public housing complexes in the banlieues are neglected and physically deteriorating. Poverty, substandard schools, low levels of educational attainment, crime and unemployment are common features in these neighborhoods.
Young banlieusards (banlieue residents) are stereotyped as gang members, criminals and potential terrorists. They are otherized as "immigrants" even though many of them are second and third generation citizens who were born in France. Banlieusards are routinely targeted by police who abuse and harass them using identity checks as a pretext. These discriminatory practices treat the young men as second-class citizens and impinge on their rights to freedom of movement and privacy. Police brutality provoked large-scale riots in 1983, the 1990s and 2005.
France does not have anything like America's history and legacy of racial segregation. During the first half of the 20th century, African American artists and entertainers moved to France to escape segregation and discrimination in the U.S. Racial and ethnic categories are not officially recognized in France. The French census does not disaggregate data by race or ethnicity. French laws prohibit officials from doing so. France is officially colorblind but its race-neutral policies do not prevent the bias and discrimination caused by "colorblind racism."
Race and ethnicity are important but largely unacknowledged aspects of the immigration debates in France. The term "immigrant" has become a shorthand reference to ethnic minorities who are harshly criticized for failing to embrace French values and traditions. This is particularly so in the case of Muslims as Islam is considered by many to be incompatible with French values. These groups are treated as permanent strangers unworthy of acceptance by the majority population. The problem is not that North and sub-Saharan Africans refuse to integrate into French society. The reality is France won't allow them to do so.
Leland Ware is the Louis L. Redding Chair and Professor for the Study of Law and Public Policy at the University of Delaware.
France Bans the Muslim Burqa and Veil Essay
1637 Words7 Pages
Within the Middle East, the largest population of the men and women are Muslim. The Muslim religion suggests that the women wear a veil or hijab, which is a headscarf that only exposes a woman’s eyes, accompanied by a burqa which is a full body cloak. The sole purpose of the clothing is to cover a woman’s feminine features from men’s eyes. The Qur’an, an Islamic scripture supports, and slightly obligates the uniform by saying that women are to be conservative, “Let them wear their head covering over their bosoms, and not display their ornaments.” (Qur’an). Muslim women, instead of feeling oppressed, view this as a positive aspect in their lives, influenced by their devotion to Allah. Their acceptance could be influenced by their…show more content…
The anticipated law, whose purpose is to ban the use of the burqa and veil, finally took place in France. The ban started within school, and expanded into a restriction within the entire country. France drew international attention, questions, and opinions on the justification of this new law. Even though France’s main response to their justification of the ban is to preserve the French culture, the law also positively addresses other problems such as: religious freedom, public safety, and women’s rights. When I was first introduced to the topic of France’s ban on the veil, I disagreed with the law. I took a position based on my customs as an American citizen which differs completely to those of France. International critics began to argue that France is violating what people call “Freedom of Religion”, which I agreed with at first. As a foreigner from America, I am accustomed to the American governments definition of freedom of religion. Protected by the First Amendment “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof: or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” (Religious Freedom). You can express your religion in public, during church, mass, or religious meetings. So the presence of religious items such as the