France’s Racist Burqa Ban

So France, flying the flag for secularism, equality and modernity, has bravely banned an item of clothing worn by an estimated 2,000 women – the veil properly known as the niqab, though often referred to as the burqa. Before we congratulate the French for this bold move, let’s explore some background.

Anecdote: A Mauritian friend, a light-skinned, mixed-race guy, was in Paris recently visiting family. Walking down the road with his blonde wife and their toddler, they passed a respectable-looking guy… who racially abused them and spat on their child.

Anecdote: A French friend of mine, “N”, grew up in the notorious estates (projects) in the Paris banlieues (suburbs). His mother was French, father was an Indian Muslim immigrant, and so in French terms, he’s foreign. He grew up along with other excluded sections of French society: Arabs, North Africans, Jews, Sub-Saharan Africans. Racial harassment from police was a daily part of life. He became a gifted graphic designer, but no company in Paris would hire him. He moved to London and quickly found a well-paid job. He still sees France as home, but without employment, couldn’t live there.

Anecdote: A French friend of mine lives in London. She’s white, “native” French. She visits family regularly. She tells me that racist talk is now openly accepted among white French people, with no shame or stigma attached.

Anecdote: The black British journalist Gary Younge studied for some time in Paris. He’s written of his experiences during that time, when he faced regular racial abuse and police harassment, to the point where he began to feel hatred for white people.

Anecdotes are interesting but don’t prove anything: But what about the UN report that advised on a “significant resurgence of racism” in France? The 1998 poll showing France to be the most racist country in Europe, where 38% of French people described themselves as racist? The 2005 uprisings by poor North Africans who had finally had enough? My friend N’s experience wasn’t unusual: in 2005, 5% of white graduates were unemployed, compared to 26.5% of graduates of North African origin.

Outside of football, non-white faces are barely seen in public French life. France applauded itself when its first black newsreader appeared on TV. In the 70s? 80s? 90s? Actually, it happened in 2006.

The picture at the top of this article is of a yellow Star Of David with Juif written on it (“Jew” in French). In Nazi Germany and occupied Poland, Jews were forced to wear stars saying Jude – “Jew” in German. But in Vichy France, the French carried out the persecution of Jews, and they did it the French way. While some European countries resisted German demands to hand over their Jewish citizens, France sent over 75,000 French Jews, Jewish refugees and other French citizens to the death camps. After World War 2, Germany was forced to live up to the horror of what it had perpetrated; but France was not. The willingness with which the French turned on their own Jewish population was buried, and the myth of the French Resistance was amplified instead, to present France as a heroic nation under occupation.

This is the France that banned niqabsyesterday. Europe’s most racist country, a segregated state that has never allowed equality or integration for its minorities, a country where people of Muslim origin have trouble finding employment or good housing, and face routine harassment and brutality from the police. Those who believed that this is about women’s rights or promoting secularism have been fooled – this is simply France doing what it does so well: bullying powerless minority groups that can’t hit back.

11 thoughts on “France’s Racist Burqa Ban”

  1. [Tunisian female here who has lived in France :)]

    Seems some European countries have been riding the anti-immigrant wave for awhile. In my personal experience, racism and homophobia were the worst in Paris. But, hate speech in public is a crime in France and one can be arrested for it, a la John Galliano. That being said, I don't doubt that people are called nasty names every day.

    So in my home country (Tunisia), burqas have been banned in some public spaces since 1981. I was born 2 years after this ban was made law, but all of the females I knew who wore full hijab just removed it when they were in a public space that outlawed it. I know Syria and Turkey also have similar bans. So what of these countries? Tunisia and Syria are both Muslim countries, so I know the argument can't be that they are creating these laws just to target Muslims, as is the argument for France. Turkey's government is secular but with a sizable Muslim population. So I suppose it's the intention that's different here.

    I can't decide how I feel about the ban. I grew up in a Muslim country, with a ban already in place before I was even born.

    Thanks for the post!
    – Adeline

  2. But this is not about racism at all. It is about an offensive garb. It's not racist because we don't allow nudists, or crash hats in banks and post offices. So this may be wrong, but not because it's racist.

    Don't play the racist card and then discuss it.

  3. Hi Adeline, thanks for your comments – you raise good questions. From a personal point of view, wearing a veil in public is pretty weird/crazy. It would be nice to see it gone. When a Muslim country like Tunisia or Turkey tries to secularise, this can be a positive thing. But the wave of anti-Muslim sentiment sweeping Europe is nothing to do with secularisation, and everything to do with bullying a minority – remember the ban on minarets in Switzerland last year and the cartoons of Mohammed in Denmark? And so on… France's Muslims (whether religious or secular) are already angry – this seems deliberately timed to make them angrier. It wouldn't be surprising to see more riots in France and across Europe this summer.

  4. Constant Sorrow said… "But this is not about racism at all. It is about an offensive garb." – I don't buy that. Clothing isn't offensive – people decide whether something offends them. I'm no more offended by niqabs than I am by nudity. If people were less easily offended, we'd all have more freedom.

  5. No you miss the point MW. It's not what offends you but that it's not racist that society won't allow nudity or crash hats in certain places either. It may well be wrong to dictate what people do or do not wear but it is not racist.

    There is the other point too, that because a minority of women will always demo for being covered from head to foot, it is a diktat and oppression of women to make them wear itin the West where women have freedom. We have come a long way in the treatment and rights of women and that is all women. Why would any woman wish to be shrouded like that unless coerced? It doesn't make sense.

  6. I agree that French are racist. In your article, you have written about victims who are more or Asians. But you should also visit Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia and see for yourself how women are treated over there. My point is that the French don't treat muslim women any worse than they are being treated in their own countries.

  7. I don’t like this whole post, it smacks so much of prejudice, and it’s presented in a bitter way that displays France as purely a racist state. France has probably the largest arab muslim population of any country in Europe, and there has undoubtedly been culture clashes, but racism is a totally different thing. The problem with being young in France, is that, if you live in the inner city, there are few jobs, you need to emigrate, and this effects everyone, but especially the poor children of immigrants.

    Nevertheless, there are black people everywhere in paris, and other cities, and.. they’re just working like anyone else, helping tourists, working in hospitals, or driving cabs, … truckloads of French kids come to our shores to learn English, and they are the most multi racial group of all the Europeans.

    France is no angel, it conquered a good proportion of the world, and deserves huge criticism for it’s imperial past, and it’s slavery days – nevertheless, it had historically been less violent and racist than other neighbours, once a nation was oppressed.

    Also, crime is rather high in france, with so many people in the big cities, and taking too many photos of the Eiffel tower, may land you with a punch in the face from a passing petty thief who thinks youre taking photos of him.

    So, generally wonderful to visit, but not the perfect country to live in. The people are tolerant, the population is pretty multi racial and mostly integrated. There is an anger against extremism though, and this is what is being experienced in the aftermath of more honour killings, and the Liege attacks, London, etc.

    If you wrote this article, then I believe YOU have a problem here – you sound kind of the same as prejudiced people do when they believe they’re not racist, but want to tell you about THEM and US.

    If you don’t realise that THEM and US are the same thing, then you’re just discriminating.

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