The French burqa ban has been criticised for being unnecessary (only around 2000 women in France actually veil their faces), anti-Islam (no shit) and making a mockery of the whole liberty-equality-fraternity business. All valid points, but they merely skim the surface of the real unpleasantness of the ban.
Let’s take as read that this is not really, as the mealy-mouthed wording of the law pretends, aimed at banning all face coverings. Hats, scarves and sunglasses are excluded from consideration. The spirit, if not the letter, of the law discriminates solely against Muslims. Specifically Muslim women. Which makes it not just racist and sexist, but cowardly to boot.
France is turning the full force of law and international attention, on a handful of women, singling them out for persecution. If this were an honest attempt to protect France’s secular culture there would have to be a wholesale ban on items signifying religions affiliation such as yamulkes, rosary beads and Sikh turbans. But that would mean going up against much more powerful and — significantly — male interest groups. So Sarkozy and his nasty little right-wing cronies go after a population that is almost by definition unable to fight back. If a Muslim woman wants to remonstrate in public she has to either unveil, which would defeat the purpose, or risk arrest. Neat way of silencing the opposition, no?
French supporters of the ban should consider this: targeting and harassing minorities is where all lethal outbreaks of intolerance begin.