France starts ban on face veils

Kenza Drider, a niqab-veiled young woman who has become the media symbol of France’s tiny community of niqab-wearers, speaks to the press during a protest in front of Notre Dame cathedral.

France’s ban on full-face veils, a first in Europe, went into force yesterday, making anyone wearing the Muslim niqab or burqa in public liable to a fine of 150 euros ($216) or lessons in French citizenship.

The ban has been criticized in France and elsewhere, but mainstream Muslim groups — which had a six-month grace period after the law was passed to explain it to their supporters — opted not to protest at its entry into force.

“We’ve already had our debate about the law, and now our position is clear: We respect French law 100 percent,” said a spokesman for the French Council of the Muslim Faith.

France’s 5 million-strong Muslim minority is Western Europe’s largest, but fewer than 2,000 women are believed actually to wear a full-face veil. Many still oppose the law, however, on the grounds of the precedent it sets.

President Nicolas Sarkozy’s center-right government, which pushed the law through parliament in October, rolled out a public relations campaign with posters, pamphlets and a website to explain the ban and how it will be enforced. 



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