France to Become First European Country to Ban Burqa

A new law goes into effect in France, Monday, April 11, 2011, banning women from wearing burqas in public.
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A controversial burqa ban passed by the French parliament last year will go into effect Monday, making the traditionally secular country the first in the European Union to ban the wearing of the head-to-toe Islamic covering.

In defiance of critics of the ban, who say it is anti-Islamic, President Nicholas Sarkozy told French lawmakers last year the burqa is not a religious symbol.

"It's a sign of enslavement," he said. "It will not be welcome in the French Republic."

Jacques Myard, a conservative member of parliament who supports the ban, called the burqa a "shock" to French culture.

"The face is a dignity of a person. The face is your passport," he said. "So when you refuse me to see you, I am a victim.

Only a minority of Muslim women in France choose to wear the burqa, and one told ABC News she plans to continue wearing it.

"On Monday morning, I will go shopping, to the post office and city hall if necessary," said Kenza Drider, a mother of four who has become the veiled face of women opposing the new law. "I will under no circumstances stop wearing my veil."

Under the new law, women caught wearing a burqa in public will face a warning, then a $200 fine.

The consequences are even heftier for a man if he forces a woman to wear a burqa -- a $43,000 fine.

For Drider and other Muslim women in France, how they choose to cover their faces is a personal and religious choice.

A French Muslim woman named Farida, who did not give her last name, said she chooses not to wear a head scarf, but that does not mean she supports the ban.

"I think we need to respect the opinions of the people who want to cover their faces because of religious beliefs," she said. "That is part of being a secular society."

And for a handful of women in France, continuing to cover up is a risk they're willing to take.

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