France mandates face masks, while continuing to ban the burqa

Source: The Washington Post

By James Mcauley

France, the originator of the burqa ban, has done more than any other Western nation over the past decade to resist face coverings in public. But as the country begins to emerge from its coronavirus lockdown on Monday, face masks are mandatory.

People are required to wear masks in high schools and on public transportation – or risk being fined. Shopkeepers also have the right to ask customers to wear masks or to please leave. Artificial-intelligence-integrated video cameras will be monitoring overall compliance on the Paris Metro.

To emphasize the national imperative, President Emmanuel Macron appeared at a school last week wearing a navy mask embellished with the blue, white and red stripes of the French flag. Face coverings, the design seemed to suggest, are fused to the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity.

All this has been accepted with little commentary or controversy. A recent BFMTV poll found that 94 percent of people in France supported wearing masks. That France has reported more than 26,000 coronavirus deaths no doubt contributes to that acceptance.

But many Muslims, religious freedom advocates and scholars see a great deal of irony in a society that has made such a virtue of uncovered faces suddenly requiring faces to be covered.

“If you are Muslim and you hide your face for religious reasons, you are liable to a fine and a citizenship course where you will be taught what it is to be ‘a good citizen,’ ” said Fatima Khemilat, a fellow at the Political Science Institute of Aix-en-Provence. “But if you are a non-Muslim citizen in the pandemic, you are encouraged and forced as a ‘good citizen’ to adopt ‘barrier gestures’ to protect the national community.”

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