Tuesday, 4 November 2014

French Muslims Confront Menace Beneath Ban of Veil


 Woman in hijab on roof
Chatar, 40, who spoke with Women's eNews in a phone interview in September, lives in the small village of Meru, in the Picardie region of France, with her three children and husband. But her fear isn't that of a small-town person in a big metropolis. It's due to her custom of covering her hair with a hijab, part of her way of practicing her Muslim faith.
In her town, Chatar feels that her neighbors both know and accept her. But the stories of Muslim women in big cities getting singled out for hate crimes scare her.
Workers at the Paris Opera recently drew international headlines by ejecting a woman wearing a full face veil, or niqab, which Paris outlawed in 2011. But Chatar's fears are not about the niqab, which she doesn't wear. All she wears is a head covering.
France began frowning on women in hijab in 2004 when the Parliament passed a ban on the display of religious signs in public schools, which meant schoolgirls could not wear the hijab. In 2012, a similar government rule extended to thousands of older women such as Chatar, forbidding them from escorting their children on school outings.
Both bans apply to school settings but for many Muslim women in France today the rulings reach much further, creating a pervasive sense of social prohibition about wearing the hijab that they break at their own risk.
Out of 1,417 Muslims interviewed last year, 2 percent – 30 individuals --reported a physical aggression, found a June 2014 study conducted by the Paris-based Collective Against Islamophobia in France. Women were almost all--97 percent--of those 30 victims.
Elsa Ray, spokesperson for the Collective Against Islamophobia, said street aggressions have been more violent in recent years. In the past veiled women were mainly targets of verbal violence, but the aggression has become more physical.
"The majority of aggressors are men and we have noticed that some women physically attacked were subjected to sexual touching while they had their clothes ripped off. These are signs of male domination," Ray said in an interview at the collective's office.
Last year, a 16-year-old Muslim woman recounted being attacked by two men in a Paris suburb in a piecepublished by the Huffington Post. "Then, he grabbed my arms trying to push me to the ground and he started to press his body against mine while he was holding my head. At that moment, the first guy started to touch my breasts. Then, he took a sharp object and started to scar my face with short and quick movements while the second guy was pressing his body against mine and he was blocking my head," the victim, named Aissetou, wrote.

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