France’s continued Islamophobic stance, which both marginalizes and criminalizes Muslim women for simply exercising their right to religious freedom, remains a dark stain on not only democracy but basic human rights.
France Enforces Mandatory Face Masks Despite Ongoing Burka Ban
Beginning last Monday, France has now mandated all citizens to wear face masks while in certain public areas as part of the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While these measures are necessary and in certain regards applaudable, France has come under heavy criticism for its continued controversial ban on Islamic face coverings in public.
This means that while all citizens are required to wear face masks in certain public areas, Muslim women who choose to cover their faces with the niqab or burka will still be punished by law. The irony and hypocritical stance by the French government which claims to be the heart of democracy in Western Europe has not been lost – with many criticizing France’s continued Islamophobic stance.
Preventing French citizens from religious freedom, and the freedom to wear what one chooses, has long been contested – although the strength of right-wing movements and conservatism in the country means that this continued ban on burkas, as it is commonly known, will continue in France.
French citizens who are caught wearing Islamic face coverings are fined up to €150 and are required to take a class in French citizenship education. The blatant Islamophobia by the French government has been called out by Human Rights Watch’s Executive Director Kenneth Roth among many others.
— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) May 11, 2020
Btw here’s Olivier Roy, one of France’s top scholars on radicalization, pointing out the same contradiction in the current French stance: “If you cover your face for Islam, it's not the republic. If you cover your face for a reason not to do with Islam, it's acceptable."
— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) May 12, 2020
France first banned Islamic headscarves in public schools in 2004, claiming that state institutions must remain “religiously neutral”. This ban also extended to Christian crosses and the Jewish yarmulkes in public, although many argued that neither of these is essential or mandatory in their respective religions like the hijab is in Islam. In 2010, France continued by banning Islamic face-coverings in public, claiming that this would help promote a secular and equal society.
Being the first European country to pass a nationwide ban on Islamic face coverings, other conservative-led governments in Europe began to follow – Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, and the Netherlands all have nationwide or partial bans as well.
In 2018, the United Nations Human Rights Committee stated that France’s ban violates the freedom of religion, and “could have the effect of confining them [Muslim women] to their homes, impeding their access to public services and marginalizing them”.
While COVID-19 continues to ravage throughout the world, essential government measures like enforcing face masks continue to be necessary. However, France’s continued Islamophobic stance, which both marginalizes and criminalizes Muslim women for simply exercising their right to religious freedom, remains a dark stain on not only democracy but basic human rights.