After the 2004 ban of the veil in France’s public schools as an ostentatious religious symbol, a new law came into force on April 11, 2011 that bans the wearing of the face veil (niqab or burqa) in “public places” throughout France – defined as everywhere except one’s home, car, workplace, or mosque. A recent study published by the Open Society Foundation found that less than 2,000 women wear the face veil in France. Many have already suffered insults and sometimes physical harassment. The new law will encourage only more abuse. Yet Christian religious processions that require face-covering hoods are still allowed.
We need to better understand the dynamics behind these controversies and new laws banning symbols of religious expression. And we must ask whether there is adequate protection of religious pluralism and confessional neutrality in Europe’s public space. The far right in Europe has occupied public space to aggressively assert their culture against Muslim practices. Pointedly insulting anti-Muslim actions are increasing.
In Italy, the right-wing Northern League party organizes processions of pigs on the sites where mosques are to be erected. In France, open-air “salami and wine” events, focusing on Islamic strictures against pork and alcohol, have been organized by an anti-Muslim movement that claims to be secular. This focus on food and wine shows that fear of threats to cultural identity in the face of globalization is at the core of the “new right,” as sociologist Mabel Berezin has argued in her recent book "Illiberal Politics in Neoliberal Times."