It is now officially illegal to hide your face in public spaces in France. Whether or not the law specifically applies to Muslim women wearing burqas, however, is still up for debate. The two women in full-face veils who were detained today by Paris police after participating in a demonstration against the law, probably don't feel that way though. Police are claiming that they were taken due to the fact that the demonstration was unauthorized, but it's clear this is not where the story ends.
The controversial law, the only one of its kind of Western Europe, requires that anyone found covering his or her face will pay a fine equivalent to $215. For those found guilty of forcing another to cover their face, the price jumps to $43,000; the fine is to be doubled if the forced party is a minor. The law's careful language (the words "women," "veil," and "Muslim" are nowhere to be found) allows France to position the law as a issue of national safety, but citizens both at home and abroad are questioning the racist and sexist implications of the ban.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has specifically stated that the law is meant to protect the dignity and equality of women, which honestly sounds backwards to me. If Sarkozy is interested in protecting women's dignity, why would he enact a law that humiliates them by forcing them to publicly renounce their religious beliefs and takes away their sense of autonomy? I understand that he feels uncomfortable about the strict dress codes the Muslim faith requires of its women — I often feel that way too. What makes me more uncomfortable, however, is another man, of another faith, deciding that his power trumps that of another culture simply because he neither respects or understands it.