Covering your face in public in France is now illegal. Muslim women in France who choose to wear a niqab, or face veil, in public face arrest and a fine of 150 euros.
French president Nicolas Sarkozy says this is about liberating women and integrating Muslims into French society.
But Sarkozy has never been concerned with women’s oppression. Instead he is worried about the electoral threat from the far right.
A recent poll showed that Marine Le Pen of the fascist Front National Party is ahead of Sarkozy by two points.
Instead of standing up to Le Pen, Sarkozy is shifting ever rightwards. He sees attacking Muslims as a vote winner.
Increasing “social integration” is another lie. If some Muslim women want to cover up when in public, a ban will simply push them to stay at home.
The French ban is just the latest example of the dangerous rise in Islamophobia across Europe. Muslims are seen as the enemy at home and in the imperialist wars abroad.
No wonder many Muslim women see wearing the hijab or the face veil as an expression of resistance to racism and pride in their religious identity.
They want to show they are refusing to be cowed.
Socialists should reject those on the left who support the veil ban because they support France’s claim to be a non-religious, secular society.
France isn’t secular. Christianity is the dominant religion. And the French state isn’t targeting religion in general but Islam in particular.
Some feminists argue for a ban because they say covering up is a sign of women’s oppression.
But for women’s liberation to have any real meaning, women must have the right to wear what they choose.
Women’s bodies have long been a battleground. Women have been condemned both for showing too much flesh and too little.
Laws that punish women for their choice of dress or religion do not liberate them. They are an instrument of oppression and prejudice.
History shows that politicians often use racist scapegoating in times of crisis and falling popularity. What is happening in France should be a warning to us all.