The Associated Press reports:
Police on Saturday arrested 61 people — including 19 women — for attempting to hold an outlawed Paris protest against France’s pending ban on face-covering Islamic veils, a top police official said.
Fifty-nine people were detained while trying to demonstrate at Place de la Nation in eastern Paris, as were two others while traveling there from Britain and Belgium, said Nicolas Lerner, chief of staff for the Paris police chief.
The arrests come amid in a rising, if small, groundswell of controversy over Monday’s start of an official ban of garments that hide the face, which includes Muslim veils such as the slit-eyed niqab and the full face-covering burqa. Women who disobey the law risk a fine, special classes and a police record.
Viv Groskop writes:
There was a time when Shazia Mirza, stand-up comic and British Asian Muslim, performed as a character who wore a hijab. She doesn’t now. But she still has a good line on the full-body veil. “All my cousins in France wear the burqa. Which is great. Because they all use the same bus pass.”
Not any more. Tomorrow, France launches a full-scale ban. For Sarkozy and his friends, the burqa is no joke. It’s dangerous and illegal. Women wearing the burqa and the niqab (the more common facial veil) will not exactly be arrested on sight. But if they wear a veil over their face in a public place, anyone can ask them to uncover their face – or leave. Not quite stop and search. Just stop and unmask. If a woman refuses to co-operate, citizens are advised to call the police. The fine is €150.
Does this sound a little unfriendly to you? If so, be very worried. Because this trend is spreading. A ban is already in operation in Belgium and under discussion in Canada, Denmark and Spain. It is likely to become law in the Netherlands this year or next. There have been calls in Sweden for the niqab to be prohibited in schools and universities.
A de facto ban already exists in Italy (where a 1975 antiterrorism law forbids the covering of the face) and Berlusconi’s party has drafted a new, more specific ruling. Last year, a Tunisian woman was fined €500 for wearing a burqa in Italy’s Piedmont region.