This week in France, the law banning the burqa (pictured) and the niqab, a full-face veil with only a narrow opening for the eyes, went into effect. A woman found wearing one of the traditional Muslim garments can be fined 150 euros (about US$215), and anyone forcing a woman to wear the veil faces a much stiffer fine. The ban does not apply within the workplace or the home. As the law went into effect on Monday, the first woman was cited in a Paris suburb Monday evening.
Needless to say, the law has sparked a heated debate. Some say the law's main proponent, President Nicolas Sarkozy, is making much ado about very little, even pandering to the far right -- as only an estimated 2,000 women in France bother with the burqa or the niqab. Others welcome the move as a liberation from the oppression of sharia law. Then there are those, in this post-911 world we live in, who believe the flowing robes and covered face pose a security threat. And more than a few must have been surprised that a number of Muslim women protested the ban, asserting that it was their choice to don the voile intégrale (full veil).
France has long been struggling to come to terms with its growing Muslim population (the highest in Europe). But the question that must be addressed above all others is not whether or not one likes the burqa, but whether the state has the right to dictate what a woman wears.
I'm inclined to think not -- and you?