In France, it is legal for women to go shopping dressed like this:
But it is illegal for them to go shopping dressed like this:
The imposition of a ban on face coverings in France this week leaves a nasty taste in the mouth because of its obvious attempt to criminalise freedom of religious expression. As Viv Groskop notes in her excellent Observer article, this ban is a mealy mouthed attempt to appeal to racist and anti-immigration voters.
Let me be clear: as an atheist, I have no more sympathy for Islam as a religion than I do for Christianity. What I do have sympathy for is a marginalised, excluded Muslim community, scapegoated by majority media and politicians and demonised by an ignorant public. I would feel the same way about minority Christians treated badly in countries ruled by other religions, as they undoubtedly are in other parts of the world. To make someone unemployable – or worse, criminal – for wearing a crucifix or a hijab is purely and simply a discriminatory act. I may disagree with those who would condemn me to everlasting Hell for not agreeing with their religion, but, as Hell doesn’t exist anyway, I will defend their right to do so.
The French law is not, of course, about promoting freedom by banning “covering the face”; it is about persecuting Muslims. Will any Japanese tourists be fined for wearing their cute little medical masks? Will any leggy French woman be marched off to a magistrate for wrapping her expensive designer scarf around her mouth in cold weather? Of course not. The only women with anything to fear are those who wear the hijab for religious reasons. The irony is that anti-Islamists try to convince us that such women cover their faces out of fear of their husbands in the first place. Even if that were true – and the evidence that it is not is mounting – what on earth are we doing putting vulnerable women right in the middle of a rock (Sharia law meted out by their husbands) and a hard place (secular law meted out by the police).
But let’s not get all righteous about this. Today, the Church of England issued new guidelines to clergy to help them spot and avoid “sham” marriages. Who is this aimed at? Of course, it’s those people who come from “non-European” countries. Will ministers be suspicious of Australians? Doubtful. They will, of course, look more askance at people like… oh, well, I don’t know… black Africans, perhaps?
What is a “sham” marriage anyway? I can think of no better, no more generous reason for marrying someone than to prevent them being sent “home” to deprivation, persecution and torture. Just yesterday – this stuff comes thick and fast – a woman who was trafficked to this country, rescued and then returned to Moldova where she was gang raped, tortured and re-trafficked back into the sex trade won substantial damages from the Home Office, damages paid for by taxpayers like you and me. Now, if someone offered to marry this woman so she could stay in this country to avoid such horror, should we blame such a person for entering into a “sham” marriage? And should we applaud the clergyman, registrar or civil servant who prevented such a marriage so that she could be sent back to a situation that is a real Hell?
I know what I would describe as a sham marriage. An older man marries a young, naïve woman in order for her to produce babies. Meanwhile, and throughout the marriage, he continues a sexual relationship with a woman who has a husband and who is therefore also in a sham marriage; in fact, he marries said woman after the untimely death of his young wife, who divorces him after years of being cheated on. And yet, that gentleman, Prince Charles himself, will, on his mother’s death, become Defender of that Church of England faith.
It seems only penniless, hunted, despised black people are capable of “sham” marriage, though. The hypocrisy is stunning and vomit inducing.