According to this account in the NY Times, France has officially adopted a ban on wearing facial veils. Thousands of Muslim women (the number is in dispute) wear the niqab as a matter of religious practice. “The law does not mention Islam or women,” says the Times. “It bans the covering of the face in any public place, including shops and the street, as a security measure.”
Perhaps entry into certain public buildings (courthouses, etc.) might require facial recognition, but is it necessary to ascertain a woman’s identity as she heads to the market, to work, to pick up her kids from school, to the mosque, or to do any number of normal daily activities? Unless there is some reason to think that a particular woman is a threat to public safety, what could possibly be the rationale to force public unveiling?
Certainly any reasonable security rationale would have to ban all sorts of things to be consistent: sun glasses, scarves, turtleneck sweaters, tinted windows on an automobile, tucking one’s face into a jacket to avoid a cold breeze, shielding one’s eyes from the sun. What about all those French bicyclists? They ride by with helmets and sunglasses and move so fast that they must be hard to identify. At least banning them would make driving busy roads easier.
I guess these women could be hiding something dangerous under their veils. Of course what could be hidden under a face veil that couldn’t also be hidden in a coat, trousers, purse, or briefcase? Are the French going to require that all briefcases and handbags used in public are transparent so the police can view the contents?
Any security claim in this case is merely a pathetic excuse unworthy of a free people—even the French. The only thing more offensive than this type of blatant harassment is justifying it in terms of public safety. The French pride themselves on being tolerant, but apparently that only extends to tolerance of rudeness, infidelity, and public nudity.
Apparently the ban has broad public support. One more reason not to live in France (as if I needed another).