Agnès Poirier: This excessive law tempts me to put a veil on myself

How will the French police proceed in dealing with a law that they say is unworkable?

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There is no greater irony than the one lying at the heart of France's new law banning the burka. Why should we ban what is already forbidden and poses very little problem? The 2004 law banning all conspicuous religious signs from public spaces does just that: it bans crucifixes, kippahs, sikh turbans, hijabs, niqabs and the burka where it matters.

And where does it matter to keep religion out? "Public spaces" in the political meaning of the term: courts, hospitals and schools, where we are all bound to interact as citizens of one unified nation. What Nicolas Sarkozy's ill-advised law is doing is pushing the ban to a new kind of territory: the streets. It furthermore focuses only on Islam's most radical practice, the veiling of a woman's face. It stigmatises one religion in particular and it does so in what is not a formally public space, but – a crucial distinction – in a common and open space.

Of course, one could argue that the concept behind the niqab and burka is most distasteful, misogynistic, and indeed undemocratic. You will find few people in the Western world nourished by the Enlightenment for the last three hundred years who would disagree with that position. But that fact is deceptive. For you will also find almost as many people who would say that banning it from the streets is just as questionable.

Now that this new ban is effective, how will the French police proceed in dealing with a law that they say is unworkable? Will they dedicate a whole niqab brigade to deal with the problem? Perhaps they won't have to: the number of women wearing the burka in France is no more than 2,000.

Then again, perhaps, they will. If I were a teenager today, foolhardy and prone to grand gestures, I'd be tempted to wear it, not to show any support to fundamental Islamism, which is despicable to most women and citizens, but simply as a symbol of anti-Sarkozy protest.

Nicolas Sarkozy has so antagonised French society since his arrival to power four years ago that the majority of his laws have been rejected by a majority of the French people, even after they were passed through Parliament.

I wouldn't be surprised if one of the first measures announced by next year's new President is a repeal of this ill-advised ban. Assuming, that is, that the next president is not Marine Le Pen.

Agnès Poirier is a journalist and author of 'Touché: A Frenchwoman's Take on the English'

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