My French ain't great, but as luck would have it, I was in the country yesterday and French radio was carrying a lot of vox-pops that suggested the general population was mystified at best by the ban, and in a couple of interviews the reaction was hostile.
Now, I don't like the burqa, I think it is a hateful item of clothing which disconnects the wearer from the rest of society, it also suggests that all women are sluts and all men are rapists. It is the physical embodiment of one of the things that turns me off from religion, the mania for collecting people whilst dictating their actions and thoughts and telling them they are worthless. I also hate socks worn with sandals and the old blazer and jeans combo, but because, like the veil, they don't actually do any harm, I am not calling for their prohibition.
But of course the story is a bit of a decoy. You see, the law in France doesn't ban the burqua or the niqab, what it does is ban all face coverings in public. Everyone is prohibited from covering their face in public in France now; this means that Old Holborn's little walk would be illegal. Well, when I say everyone, that isn't quite accurate. You and I would be breaking the law by going out with a face covering, whether the reason for doing so is malicious or not, but for agents of the state, it is perfectly acceptable for them to go out dressed thus:
It isn't jsut that; as the Torygraph correctly reports:
But Alexis Marsan, a public order official, said they were solely given warnings for taking part in an illegal gathering.
Five men and another women were also held for taking part in the demonstration.
Whereas in the UK, it is illegal to hold a demonstration without permission within a certain radius of parliament, which is bad enough, in France it is illegal to hold a demonstation anywhere without permission. This is what was being reported in a very matter of fact way on French radio, that these people had been arrested for an unauthorised demonstration.
The BBC also reported on their TV news that the pair were spirited away to a police station to 'have their papers checked.' It should be noted that any resident of France is obliged to carry their Carte d'Identitie or Carte de Sejour at all times and you can be stopped and checked at any time, for no particular reason, I don't know if you can be obliged to go to the police station for your papers to be checked for no good reason, but given the reputation of the gendarmerie and the paramilitary CRS for being robust, I'm not too sure I'd be asking too forcefully.
So, just across that short stip of water we have a country where you cannot demonstrate against the state unless the state gives you permission to do so, where you cannot wear a face covering, for example a rubber mask of Sarkozy or De Gaulle, and where you can routinely be swept up off the street to have your 'papers' checked.
Am I the only one who finds this disturbing?
Normally, I'd be saying that this is a matter for the country in question, but reports are that Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands have plans along similar lines, and you can only wonder how long it will be before the same comes in over here, either through our own parliament or as the result of a dictat from Brussels.