At the end of September, Kenza Drider, a French citizen of Morroccan descent, announced that she would run in the next presidential election against Nicolas Sarkozy. Drider, a mother of 4 who wears a niqab or face veil, has become a well-known opponent of the French ban on the veil that went into effect in April. She was the only woman to testify before an information commission of lawmakers before the ban was passed. She was also one of the first women to be fined under the new law. This ban affects less than an estimated 2000 women and can result in a 150 euro fine and in some cases citizenship classes.
Proponents of the ban argue that the face veil contradicts the French principle of laïcité, French secularism, where religion is not present in the public sphere. Moreover, they maintain that Muslim men are forcing these women to wear the face veil, which then isolates them. Drider, and other women who wear a niqab and oppose the ban, reject the argument that their husbands are behind their decision to cover their face and argue that the ban ends up isolating women by effectively putting them under house arrest. They also assert that the face veil empowers them.
Drider, speaking about her candidacy, states that the ban goes against a citizen’s fundamental rights to practice their faith. By running for president, she wants to demonstrate that Muslim women who wear the face veil are citizens and can bring solutions for the problems in French society. She has a major obstacle in front of her. In order to become an official candidate, Drider must get the signature of 500 elected officials.
She does, however, have financial backing from Rachid Nekkaz, a wealthy businessman, and his association “Don’t Touch My Constitution.” Nekkaz does not like the face veil but does not think that the government has a right to prevent women from wearing it. He has promised to pay any fines that women receive as a result of the ban.
As I mentioned in earlier posts, I personally do not think that the niqab is necessary. Also, I do understand some of the arguments about security that are brought up in relation to the face veil. However, if a woman wants to wear the niqab and is willing to identify herself when necessary, I think she should not be prevented from wearing it. In addition, it seems unusual to pass a ban that affects such a small number of citizens. Finally, the niqab ban in France–and now in other European countries–and other laws like the Swiss ban on minarets seem to be indicative of a larger trend to target visual markers of Islam. Even though Drider’s candidacy is unlikely to be successful, the fact that she is taking such a bold step counters the image of an oppressed and submissive Muslim woman.
What do you think of Drider’s campaign? What do you think of the French ban? Do you think that the bans of the niqab and minarets are an attack on Islam? Does Drider change your image of Muslim women who wear the face veil? Please share your thoughts below.