As of April 2011, France has become the first country to enforce a ban against the niqab, or face veil. The French President Nicolas Sarkozy was quoted saying, “Burqas are not welcome in France. In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life deprived of all identity.” Many Muslims, including those who do not wear or even approve of the face veil, lashed out against these words. They claim that Sarkozy is unfairly targeting Muslims and that the ban is an affront to their freedom of expression and religion. While other countries are considering similar legislation, France is the first to enforce such laws.
For many Muslim women, hijab is a way to identify themselves, and many French women consider themselves proud to be both French and Muslim. This law only literally impacts the lives of approximately 2,000 women who wear the niqab or burqah within French borders, but it affects many more individuals worldwide. Other countries, such as Turkey, prevent women from wearing the hijab in government buildings, including universities, libraries, and courts. For these European governments, the veil is seen as restrictive and as an object that creates a barrier between Muslim women and the outside world. The contrasting perspective held by many is that, rather than being oppressive, the veil allows a woman to express herself and the decision whether or not to wear it should be an individual one based on a woman’s personal beliefs.
There are marked differences among Muslim women concerning hijab. Some women feel strongly that, as a form of modesty, hijab is obligatory once a girl reaches the age of puberty in order to protect her from being viewed as a sexual object rather than an individual person. Others within the Muslim community debate about the appropriateness of wearing hijab in contemporary society and the meaning behind such garments. While most women agree to disagree, there are some instances where clashing on the subject occurs.