The "country of human rights" or
French White Supremacist Republicanism?
14 October 2010
Prosecutors have called for a 63-year-old French woman to
be given a two-month suspended prison sentence and a fine
of €750 (£659) after she admitted tearing a full Islamic
veil from the face of a tourist from the United Arab
The woman, a retired English teacher identified only as
Marlène Ruby, said she was "irritated" by the sight of two
women shopping in Paris in their niqabs.
She said that, not realising the pair were foreigners, she
initially pulled one of their veils while chastising them
in French for covering their faces. Minutes later, upon
noticing that the woman concerned had replaced her veil,
she became further enraged.
"I tore her niqab off and I shouted. I wanted to create a
bit of a scandal," she told Le Parisien. Her anger, she
said, sprang from witnessing the treatment of women in the
Middle East, where she used to teach. "I think it is
unacceptable for the niqab to be worn in the country of
human rights. It's a muzzle," she said.
Although she admits removing the veil, Ruby denies
allegations that she hit and bit the tourist, who claims to
have been so distressed by the incident that she had not
returned to France since. The victim's lawyer said her
client was on the receiving end of "an attack on religious
In a Paris court, the prosecutor, Anne de Fontette, said
the behaviour was not something that could be permitted in
France. "Living together requires, quite simply, an
acceptance of the other, of the way in which [the other] is
dressed," De Fontette said.
She said that although at the time of the attack, in
February, the full Islamic veil was legal attire in France,
the accused's actions would be reprehensible even now – a
month after the ban on wearing face-covering veils in
public became law.
Critics of the ban, which threatens wearers of the niqab
with a fine of €150 and a course in French citizenship,
have warned it is an unnecessary step that affects a small
minority of women but stirs up tensions.
A verdict is expected on 4 November.