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29 June 2012

When in Rome

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By Tariq A. Al-Maeena

A Wire services earlier this month carried a story about three Saudi women who were barred from entering France after refusing to remove their face veils. According to French police statements, the women who had flown in from Qatar refused to remove their face veils at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris and had been denied entry to France.

An officer in the SGP-FO police union stated that border police had asked the women to remove their veils at the immigration checkpoint, and that their reluctance to do so contravened France’s 2011 law that bans the wearing of face-covering veils anywhere in public. The women were sent back to Qatar on the return flight. 

France became the first country in Europe to outlaw the full face veil or the niqab. When motions were first introduced by Nicolas Sarkozy’s government to ban all forms of head covering including the niqab or the full face cover, there were many in France and elsewhere who charged that this was targeting Muslim immigrants to Europe and that such legislative proposals were “unconstitutional”, but the French President insisted that such a ban was not aimed at persecuting Muslims, but was merely part of an effort to make France a more tolerant, inclusive society. 

Supporters of the bill said at the time that the veil “contradicts France’s principles of secularism and women’s rights.” Some human rights groups and French Muslims in general charged that the passage of the bill would result in dishonoring religious convictions in a democracy and that it unnecessarily targeted moderate Muslims.

Once the bill was passed by the French government and became law, Mr. Sarkozy admitted that the passage of this legislation was spurred by the fact that it was primarily aimed at identifying criminals such as terrorists or shoplifters who often use the ploy to disguise their faces from security personnel or monitoring cameras. Since then, similar legislation has been passed in Belgium and Holland and has come into law.

Reactions to the deportation varied. One European said: “I see absolutely nothing wrong in what the border guards did. These women were given a choice and that was removing the veils as they are not allowed in France or to return home. These women exercised their right to choose and opted to return home rather than to remove their veils.’

A Canadian added: “What is wrong with any country having their own laws and denying entry to people who have no intention of obeying them? Unless countries stand up for their beliefs and laws, they will be trampled into the ground. Just take a hard look at some of the other European countries which have allowed themselves to be trampled on. Now if only Canada would follow France’s lead — and start to realize that immigrants need to fit in with us and not vice versa. However, I don’t expect that to happen as our politicians are useless — regardless of what party they belong to.”

A Brit opined: “Those people should understand that the whole idea of the picture on the passport is for identification therefore it is only right that every single passenger should identify themselves as required. My house, my rules! What don’t people understand about that?”

The reaction from some Saudis was not altogether positive or agreeable. One suggested a travel embargo to France and an embargo on all French products in retaliation. Another said that if Saudis are deported from France, then the French should be sent packing from the Kingdom. Yet another added that the motive behind such laws was Islamophobia by the French and very cleverly disguised under the cloak of national security issues.

But seriously, folks, the fundamental point to remember in this incident is that it is the French law. This law was approved by the French government who represent the French people. It is their country. And if their laws dictate that those entering France should not have their faces covered, then we as visitors have to respect it, regardless of whether we agree or disagree with it. 

And if some Saudis find such a law unacceptable, then they should not fly into that country. But to go there and try to impose your own set of cultural norms and beliefs on the French or anyone else is simply not right.

One must obey the rules and laws of the host country or one should not go there. This is what is demanded of our guest workers when they are in the Kingdom. Now why can’t some of us respect and follow the same demands when we visit other countries?

[The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com.]

(Courtesy: Saudi Gazette)

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