Two French Muslim women yesterday became, to their great satisfaction, the first victims of a law banning the wearing of the full-face veil in France.
Hind Ahmas and Najat Nait Ali had been hoping for convictions so they could start the lengthy process of challenging the law before the European Court of Human Rights. Ms Ahmas, 32, and Ms Ali, 36, were fined €120 (£104) and €80, respectively, for turning up at the town hall at Meaux, east of Paris, wearing their niqabs.
The mayor of Meaux is Jean-François Copé, the centre-right politician who drafted the law against the niqab and burka. It was Mr Copé's birthday on the day the two women came to Meaux.
About 130 other women have been "ticketed" by police for wearing the niqab since the law took effect in April. All the others accepted verbal warnings or agreed to attend lessons on French civics. "This was a question of principle," said Ms Ahmas, who demonstrated outside the court yesterday with half a dozen other veiled women, who were ignored by the police. "We sought this conviction deliberately. We will be claiming a victory once the law is abolished [by the European Court]."
In another political gesture against the niqab law, another fully veiled woman said yesterday that she would run for President in the election next spring. In practice, Kenza Drider is unlikely to reach the official ballot paper. She needs signatures of 500 elected officials which, even with 36,000 mayors to choose from, is a tough proposition for "one issue" candidates.
Ms Drider, 32, of Avignon, has nonetheless already printed election posters showing herself wearing a full veil in front of a line of policemen.
All three women are backed by Rachid Nekkaz, a wealthy French businessman, who says he is campaigning to protect civil liberties. He insists he has nothing to do with radical anti-Western versions of Islam.
The French "law against covering the face in public" has been copied in Belgium. It will soon be followed by Italy and the Netherlands. Although there have been isolated cases of veiled women being threatened or attacked, the French law has passed off, for the most part, without incident.
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