Parallels
5:35 pm
Mon July 22, 2013

'Burqa Ban' Sparks Another Round Of Clashes In France

Originally published on Mon July 22, 2013 9:02 pm

France's ban on face coverings — the so-called burqa ban — has been the law since 2011, but it's still a sensitive topic.

The latest round of unrest began Friday when police officers asked a woman wearing a head-to-toe veil to lift the garment and show her face.

Authorities say the woman's husband attacked the police officer. Muslim groups say the police were disrespectful. The man was eventually arrested, which sparked protests that degenerated into violence.

Youths threw rocks and fireworks; the police responded with rubber bullets. Cars were set ablaze. Helicopters hovered overhead in Trappes, a largely immigrant, working-class suburb of Paris.

The French interior minister, Manuel Valls, went to Trappes on Monday in an attempt to defuse the tension.

"There is no place for those who contest the law of the republic," he said. "The burqa is no longer allowed in public, and it is normal that police should do their job respectfully. No community can impose its own will."

Valls called secularism one of the most beautiful values of the French republic.

Residents of Trappes went about their business, but there was an underlying tension. Claire Picheron said she supported the law against wearing a burqa.

But, she added, "I don't understand how an ID control could've turned so wrong. I believe this woman who says her husband was treated badly. We know how some of these police act. It's sad. It's like a bad movie sometimes."

Law Approved After Contentious Debate

The law against a face-covering veil went into effect two years ago under President Nicolas Sarkozy. The measure passed the parliament after a yearlong national debate that was often contentious.

Though the Socialist government is trying to distance itself from Sarkozy's anti-immigrant posture, the French left largely supports the ban.

Many Muslims consider the measure a way to stigmatize them. A resident of Trappes, who gave only his first name, Samir, says that he loves the community, and that the only problem is the police.

"They're always hounding us. Even during Ramadan, when whole families are out after breaking the fast, these dogs are out provoking us, with constant ID checks and pushing us to move along," Samir says. "It's not because we wear beards and a jalaba [a flowing robe] that we're terrorists. I ask who's going to protect us from the police?"

The far right has seized upon the incident, saying the riots are linked to massive, uncontrolled immigration, and has accused the government of not being tough enough against Muslim extremists.

In 2005, neighborhoods like Trappes erupted in violence across the country. The government wants to avoid a repeat of that kind of unrest. A court on Monday gave three of the six youths arrested over the weekend six-month prison sentences.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The French interior minister said today that riot police will remain in a western suburb of Paris as long as necessary. That's after two nights of violent clashes. The unrest began last Friday when police carried out an ID check of a fully veiled woman. It's been illegal in France to wear a face-covering veil in public since 2011.

As NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports, the ID check did not go well.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: It all started when police officers asked a woman wearing a head-to-toe veil to lift the garment and show her face. Authorities claim the woman's husband attacked the police officer. Muslim groups say the police were disrespectful and provoked the altercation. The man was arrested, which sparked protests that degenerated into violence.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: Once again, France watched on the nightly news as one of its largely immigrant, working-class suburbs exploded. Youths threw rocks and fireworks. The police responded with rubber bullets. Cars were set ablaze. Helicopters hovered overhead. Violence erupted again on Saturday night. Several officers and an adolescent were injured and six people were arrested.

Today, French Interior Manuel Valls went to the town of Trappes.

MANUEL VALLS: (Through Translator) There is no place for those who contest the law of the republic. The burqa is no longer allowed in public. And it is normal that police should do their job respectfully. No community can impose its own will.

BEARDSLEY: Valls called secularism one of the most beautiful values of the French republic.

In Trappes today, the mood was calm after a night with no incidents. Children played in fountains to escape the heat and people went about their business. But there was an underlying tension. Claire Picheron says it's right that there's a law against wearing a burqa.

CLAIRE PICHERON: (Through Translator) But I don't understand how an ID check could've turned so wrong. I believe this woman who says her husband was treated badly. We know how some of these police act. It's sad. It's like a bad movie sometimes.

BEARDSLEY: The law against a full-body and face-covering veil went into effect in 2011 under President Nicolas Sarkozy. The burqa ban, as it is called here, passed the parliament after a yearlong national debate that was often contentious. Though the socialist government is trying to distance itself from Sarkozy's anti-immigrant position, the French left also largely supports the ban. But many Muslims consider the measure just another way to stigmatize them. Trappes resident Samir, who wears a beard and jalaba, and prefers not to give his last name, says he loves the community. He says the only problem is the police.

SAMIR: (Through Translator) They're always hounding us. Even during Ramadan, when whole families are out after breaking the fast, these dogs are provoking us with constant ID checks and pushing us to move along. It's not because we wear beards and a jalaba that we're terrorists. I ask who's going to protect us from the police?

BEARDSLEY: The far right has seized upon the incident, saying the riots are linked to massive, uncontrolled immigration and has accused the government of not being tough enough against Muslim extremists. In 2005, neighborhoods like Trappes exploded in violence across the country. Analysts say the government wants to avoid, at all cost, a repeat of that kind of unrest. Today, a court gave three of the six youths arrested over the weekend six-month prison sentences.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.