‘Muslim women are being scapegoated’

Niqab wearer explains why she will continue to wear a veil, despite the new ban in France that came into force this week.

Anne [not her real name] (32) is French and lives in a village south of the Burgundy town of Mâcon. A mother of four, she converted to Islam at 18 and has worn the niqab for five years/

I’ve got a pregnancy scan on Friday. My doctor supports me wearing the niqab, but I’m not sure I’ll be allowed into the hospital. I could wear a medical facemask, bird-flu style. Other women have told me they’ll wear them to get round the ban and to keep their faces covered in state offices.

My husband, whose parents are Algerian, is afraid for me, but I won’t take the niqab off. I won’t change. That would be to renounce my values. I’m French, I was educated to believe in liberté, égalité, fraternité. My grandfather was an army officer on the beaches of Dunkirk and was imprisoned in Germany during the war. He always taught me: “If there’s an injustice in life, you can’t stay silent.”

I will still take my sons to football, collect my daughter from horse riding, shop in the organic store. In the countryside, people know me. I don’t think they’ll call the police if I go to the shops. I’m the only woman in a niqab in the village. I think there are only two of us in the whole of Mâcon.

‘I am home’
Three-quarters of women in a niqab won’t take it off. You either have to play a game of cat and mouse, dodging discrimination, or you don’t leave home.

For the last six months, I’ve felt a rise in Muslims being stigmatised. People in the street have said to me: “Go home.” I say: “I am home. My family have lived in this region since 1600.” I’ve stopped shopping at big hypermarkets. I noticed more aggression in the street as soon as [Nicolas] Sarkozy announced a consultation on the burqa. Suddenly, security guards started watching me, old women accused me of deliberately provoking them by standing in a queue. People look at my children differently. When we’re out and my husband calls me by my very French first name and maiden name, people are shocked. They realise they’ve fallen for a cliche and I’m not what they think.

In November I was stopped by police in Mâcon for driving in a niqab which they said “obstructed my vision”. One police motorbike went past me, no problem, but the second pulled me over and wanted to fine me for wearing a niqab. When I told him the law wasn’t in force yet he didn’t know what to do. Lots of drivers were committing all sorts of faults but he only stopped me and a Moroccan man.

‘France is stigmatising a whole faith’
Unfortunately, lots of people like me really don’t feel at home any more. I was fined €22, and I challenged it but my objection was rejected. I could have gone to a tribunal but I didn’t want to be lynched by the media.

I refute the current debate in France about women who convert, that they’re the most extremist, or psychologically disturbed. I’m not stupid, this is an intellectual decision. It had nothing to do with marriage, I married much later. The niqab ban isn’t the first injustice against Muslims in this country and it won’t be the last. It’s deliberately done to humiliate people. Muslim women are being scapegoated. France is stigmatising a whole faith, and we know from this country’s history that stigmatising a whole people never got us anywhere. – guardian.co.uk

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