French students wearing hotpants protest niqab ban

Women nicknamed "niqabitches" post video which has had more than 70,000 views to date; say it is a lighthearted protest against gov't ruling.

October 3, 2010 17:57
3 minute read.
Female students walk through Paris

"niqabitches". (photo credit: Screenshot)


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A video featuring two French women walking the streets of Paris dressed in hotpants, showing bare legs and covering their heads and faces with a niqab was released on Saturday, as a tongue-in-cheek response the recently passed French Senate bill banning the burka-style Islamic veil on public streets and other places, The Daily Telegraph reported on Sunday.

The two women, who are political science and communication students in the French capital, remain anonymous and call themselves the "Niqabitches" in the video which on Sunday had been viewed more than 70,000 times on French news website rue99. The clip seemed set to become an internet sensation.

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Terra Incognita: Veiled nonsense

The film shows the women walking past goverment offices dressed in their provocative outfits, but with their heads covered with the black veil. Following publication of the video, the two students also wrote an op-ed for a French news website in which they explained that their intention was to criticize the ban in a lighthearted way.

"We were not looking to attack or degrade the image of Muslim fundamentalists – each to their own – but rather to question politicians who voted for this law that we consider clearly unconstitutional," they said.

The French senate passed the bill last month, in a measure that effects less than 2,000 women but that has been widely seen as a symbolic defense of French values.

Many Muslims believe the legislation is one more blow to France's No. 2 religion, and risks raising the level of Islamophobia in a country where mosques, like synagogues, are sporadic targets of hate. However, the law's many proponents say it will preserve the nation's values, including its secular foundations and a notion of fraternity that is contrary to those who hide their faces.

The bill is worded to trip safely through legal minefields. For instance, the words "women," ''Muslim" and "veil" are not even mentioned in any of its seven articles.

"This law was the object of long and complex debates," the Senate president, Gerard Larcher, and National Assembly head Bernard Accoyer said in a joint statement announcing their move. They said they want to be certain there is "no uncertainty" about its conforming to the constitution.

It would outlaw face-covering veils, including those worn by tourists from the Middle East, on public streets and elsewhere. The bill set fines of €150 ($185) or citizenship classes for any woman caught covering her face, or both. It also carries stiff penalties for anyone, such as husbands or brothers, convicted of forcing the veil on a woman. The €30,000 ($38,400) fine and year in prison are doubled if the victim is a minor.

The bill is aimed at ensuring gender equality, women's dignity and security, as well as upholding France's secular values — and its way of life.

Muslim leaders concur that Islam does not require a woman to hide her face. However, they have voiced concerns that a law forbidding them to do so would stigmatize the French Muslim population, which at an estimated 5 million is the largest in western Europe. Numerous Muslim women who wear the face-covering veil have said they are being increasingly harassed in the streets.

The Interior Ministry estimates the number of women who fully cover themselves at some 1,900, with a quarter of them converts to Islam and two-thirds with French nationality.

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