France still looks like and feels like France in the centre of Paris. You do not have to travel very far from the usual tourist sites, however, to start to understand the French ban on the full Islamic face-veil, which saw the first token conviction this week.
One tourist site that has quietly slipped off the traditional itineraries, for very good reasons, is the Basilica of Saint-Denis. Resting place of French kings and queens for more than a thousand years, the cathedral will see the interment next year of recently rediscovered remains of Henry IV. Ask Parisians if they have ever been to visit and they will say, almost uniformly, that they have not.
France’s equivalent to Westminster Abbey site is today a forsaken Christian island in a surrounding Islamic sea. The population is 70% Muslim. French police publicly list much of the district as a no-go area. Walking through the area, one wonders not only whether one is really in France but whether one is even in Europe.
Saint-Denis requires a short trip from central Paris to be seen but the increasing Islamisation of France is visible even within the confines of central Paris proper. Within minutes of the tourist district of Montmartre, locals have had to put up with the police-assisted shutdown of public streets each Friday to facilitate Islamic prayers. Quite literally, the streets have been handed over weekly to French Muslims, complete with cordons preventing locals from passing through. The area also grows ever more unsafe for non-Muslims. A gay acquaintance of mine has been attacked three times in the neighbourhood while travelling to visit friends.
A new law has recently addressed public prayer but it remains to be seen whether the French authorities will take it any more seriously than their niqab-ban – because, notwithstanding the Europe-wide wave of condemnation from human rights lawyers and deluded feminist organisations when the face-veil ban was first passed, it has long since become clear that the French state is not even remotely interested in enforcing it or in responding to growing French anger at the erosion of their culture and the outright surrender of tracts of their country.
Despite being passed in April, the ban on the veil has been more or less completely ignored by French Muslims and French police alike. Not even a hundred women breaking the law have been stopped by police since its passage. The police can in any case do no more than send on a file. Of these, ‘fewer than ten’ are considered active by the French Ministry for Justice. Even by the febrile standards of the routinely hysterical multicultural left, the alleged-wave of persecution against French Muslims is an exceptionally extravagant fantasy.
The case of this week’s conviction is a revealing. The French Muslim in question, Hind Ahmas, was only stopped after donning the illegal veil and staging a public provocation outside the local townhall, which is pretty much the bare minimum a French Muslim has to do to get the authorities to pretend to enforce the law. One suspects that she is more than delighted at her conviction as she has already announced her intention to appeal to the French Supreme Court and then if necessary to the European Court of Human Rights in order to get the law annulled entirely. What is at stake in this week’s case is not French Islam but whether the French Republic still possesses the will or even the ability to preserve its republican culture.
Where France and Islam are concerned, the true scandal is not the legally-sanctioned oppression of Muslims but of the State-supported suppression of free-speech. One only has to glance at how France treats anyone with an unkind word about the religion. The contrast with its desultory ban on the veil could not be clearer.
When, a few years ago, a philosophy teacher by the name of Robert Redeker wrote in Le Figaro newspaper that Muhammad was ‘a merciless warlord, a looter, a mass-murderer of Jews and a polygamist’ and that the Koran is ‘a book of incredible violence’ he was quickly forced into hiding after credible death-threats. Instead of the French Republic rallying to the support of free speech and the basic liberties of one of its citizens, he faced an extraordinary wave of elite condemnation for having ventured to speak of Islam in such terms in the first place. The cravenness of the response is all the more stark given that both were statements of historical fact.
Leading French novelist Michel Houellebecq found himself in court after less-objectively calling Islam ‘the stupidest religion’ and criticising the literary merits of the Koran. He was acquitted, but when Brigitte Bardot in 2008 suggested that animals be given an anaesthetic before being subjected to halal slaughter she was convicted of ‘inciting racial hatred’.
France’s five million Muslims are already the largest such minority in Europe, a minority growing steadily through immigration and higher birth rates. The question of what this means for France’s ability to preserve its identity is occasionally raised, but in keeping with Europe’s cultural death-wish is usually studiously ignored. When French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for a debate on the issue earlier this year, much of his own party publicly refused to participate. As so often this merely left the field to the far-right National Front whose leader Marine Le Pen has compared French Islam to the Nazi occupation, a remark which, quite apart from anything else, is egregiously self-serving from the head of a party founded as an old soldiers’ home for Vichy-era collaborators.
Far from being an instance of intolerance or the sharpening of cultural politics in France, the ban on the face-veil is a transparent ploy by the French political class to make a wholly insincere gesture it has not the slightest intention of honouring in practice. Just how long the French people will put up with the establishment-conspiracy to silence the issue is quite another matter.