A Quick Update on the Niqab Debate

Woman Wearing the Niqab, photo by AFP

Just a quick update regarding the Niqab debate in France: last week, the French Senate voted overwhelmingly and as expected the law banning the wearing of full-face veils that had already been voted by the lower house of the French Parliament, l’Assemblée Nationale, in July.

The law still has to face the scrutiny of the French Conseil Constitutionnel (France’s Constitutional “Court”), and eventually, challenges before the European Court of Human Rights. The outcome of each of these tests is uncertain, as there are arguably good arguments on both sides of the debate.

If left standing as it is, it will enter into force 6 months from now, in order to give time for the Government to do organize a preventive pedagogical approach towards the women concerned and to think through how to implement the law. Whether you are for or against the ban, it’s true that the idea of policemen and gendarmes arresting women wearing the niqab and fining them for it makes nobody comfortable. But for those who favor the ban, such as myself, it is – very unfortunately – a necessary evil.

This new vote has reignited the debate and the international scrutiny (read: criticism) on this law. I’m not going to get back into the debate, which has no new element since July. But for those interested in reading more on this, here are a few links:

  • first of all, some unashamed self-promotion with the entry I wrote in July on this issue, following the National Assembly’s vote;
  • two excellent pieces from my friend Mélanie Gouby on her blog: see here and here, chronologically;
  • an interesting exchange between two editorialists from the WSJ.

Whatever your position may be, but even more so if you’re against the ban, please remember to always place this in a French context… This is a very French debate, and even though perspectives from outside are always interesting, they are often grounded on a different set of values and can therefore often be mistaken about the motives behind the law and the ban in general (no, we are not all Islamophobes…).

Xavier Rauscher – follow me on Twitter @xrauscher_


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  1. #1 by CRY ME AN ONION on 19 September 2010 - 19:09

    The French Parliament passed a law prohibiting the wearing of a full face veil. The religious aspect was carefully omitted. Of course, it is an open secret at whom it is addressed. It only affects, approximately, 2000 women within the 15% Muslim population in France. The most interesting part of the law is the penalty imposed on men forcing women to wear the niqab and the penalty applies to minor.
    France is asserting the secularism of its government. Time will tell if it holds and at which cost in term of xenophobia and repercussion from the Islamist extremist.
    It is interesting and personally I am in favor of the ban but it is bound to open a pandora box.

  2. #2 by Xavier Rauscher on 19 September 2010 - 19:14

    You are quite right, even though I wish you weren’t. We shall see how this carries on, and try to make the best of it.

    This is about defending the French contrat social, secularism and human dignity being two of its fundamental aspects. I’m curious to see what the Conseil Constitutionnel, and, eventually, the European Court of Human Rights, will say about this.

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