Starting today, any woman in France wearing the burqa or niqab Muslim veil in public will face a fine of over $200 and take a course in French citizenship. And anyone found forcing a woman to wear a veil will be subject to a $40,000 fine.
The all-covering veils have been a hot topic in France for years with different interests taking various positions. Nicolas Sarkozy's government says the veil is a symbol of male oppression and goes against France's secular values. Some Muslim religious leaders say they don't oppose or support the burqa, because wearing one is a cultural not a religious decision. Meanwhile, Muslim and human rights groups have called the ban an attempt to stir up racial sentiments.
It's certainly problematic: the ban could further alienate a marginalized group of conservative women, preventing them from integrating while it ironically controls women's clothing choices. If France wants to protect women's autonomy, decreeing what they can and cannot wear seems like a strange way to do it.
France's Muslim minority is five million strong, but only 2,000 women wear all-covering veils. The fiery debate over the new law reminds me of the Arizona law banning race- and sex-selective abortions, a problem that doesn't actually exist. It's emotional, ideological, and distracting from more serious problems.