NPR: France's Burqa Ban 'Sinister,' Adds to 'Islamophobic Climate'

Eleanor Beardsley slanted towards opponents of France's ban on the niqab, or Islamic face veil, on two NPR programs on Monday. Beardsley played several sound bites from French Muslims during her Morning Edition report who forwarded the notion that the law contributes to an "anti-Muslim climate" in the country, and agreed with a guest on Tell Me More who labeled the ban "sinister."

The correspondent, who is based in France, led her report on Morning Edition with a clip from the imam of a mosque in Aubervilliers, a suburb of Paris, who stated, "You know there is an Islamophobic climate right now and the police don't like to see us praying in the streets." She also turned to another Muslim man who singled out the niqab ban for contributing to this apparent climate:

BEARDSLEY: Rachid Zaieri says for the most part, it's fine being a Muslim in France, though he admits in the last few years, there has been a rise in political talk against Islam, and this burqa ban is part of that, he says.

RACHID ZAIERI (translated from French): We don't feel this law is sincere. It doesn't mean we're for the burqa, but we think this law is just an excuse to tell French people, watch out: there's a growing Muslim population that you should be afraid of.

Beardsley continued by touting how "many Muslims here blame President Nicolas Sarkozy for what they say is an anti-Muslim climate in France today. They say the French president creates debates around Islam so that people will forget about the real problems, like the economy." (the article she wrote to go along with her report used this claim in the title: "France's Burqa Ban Adds To Anti-Muslim Climate") She then highlighted two Muslim women who wear the niqab:

BEARDSLEY: ...Even by the French government's own estimates, fewer than 2,000 women across the country wear the niqab. Twenty-two-year-old Someya, who doesn't want to give her last name, is one of them.

SOMEYA (translated): I feel like I'm doing something higher. I'm wearing it for God and for my husband, so that he'll be the only person who can see me and be able to appreciate my face.

BEARDSLEY: Someya says she'll take off her niqab today because she has no choice, but she believes the government is infringing on her personal freedom.

Eighteen-year-old Sarah Morvan, a Muslim convert who also wears the niqab, has just pulled on her long black gloves and stepped out into the street. Not a bit of skin is showing. Morvan says she will not remove her veil, and the new law will only force her to stay at home more often with her three-month-old daughter, who she pushes in a stroller in the afternoon sun. (audio clip of Sarah Morvan speaking in French) It's a very emotional experience to wear the niqab, says Morvan, who embraced wearing it two years ago. You are sheltered from all onlookers and completely cut off from society.

The NPR reporter played only one sound bite from a Muslim supporter of the ban at the very end of the report:

BEARDSLEY: Aubervilliers is 70 percent Muslim. Many, like cafe owner Kamel Mesbah, say they understand the intent of the law, to weaken what he calls the burqa culture. (audio clip of Kamel Mesbah speaking in French) You can't have things like men and women refusing to shake each other's hands and separate hours for boys and girls at the public swimming pool, he says. That's just not France.

Later in the day, Tell Me More host Michel Martin brought on Beardsley to talk about the law, along with French Muslim feminist Sihem Habchi, a supporter of the ban, and French journalist Nabila Ramdani, who, as Martin pointed out, wrote "a number of commentaries for London's Guardian newspaper expressing her opposition to the new law." Ramdani blasted French President Nicolas Sarkozy for his support of the ban:

RAMDANI: Well, we've heard a segment from Nicolas Sarkozy earlier, and he's right. The law is not about religion. As an actual fact, the text of the law doesn't mention Islam even once. He claims it's about liberty and dignity. And it is, for me, abundantly clear that this ban is a violation of fundamental human rights, and has little to do with the liberation of women or the dignity. Quite the opposite, because in actual terms, what this ban would mean is that it forbids women from stepping out of the house, which means that, effectively, it prevents them from being free individuals. It excludes them from society completely, and it effectively puts them under house arrest.

It's, in fact, a very sinister state interference into a religious matter, and a cynical political move to capture the far right vote ahead of the presidential elections next year. And it is a cynical text of law because it not only tells women how to dress, which is patronizing enough, but worse still, it criminalizes a handful of women who have chosen a lifestyle of their own, in respect of the secular nature of French society, and I have to insist on that point, to choose to cover their faces.

Near the end of the segment, Martin asked the NPR correspondent for her take on the law's future. She agreed with Ramdani and even used the same label:

BEARDSLEY: ...One thing I would say is that I do think the law is a bit political. I agree with Nabila when she says that. There's so few women that wear the burqa and the niqab, and in a country like France, I think the garment will ultimately disappear because, you know, I interviewed an 18-year-old who said she wanted to wear it till the day she died. But really, how long is he going to last in France with her complete covering black over her entire body? Probably not very long. So I think that Sarkozy is just pushing for this law. Really, it's a non-issue, I think, and he wants voters from the far right. He's scared of a rise in the far right. So I think the reasons for enacting it are a bit sinister.

— Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.
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