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 Emirates.
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.
"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.I'm obviously against tearing anything off anyone's face or violence of any sort. But here is what bothers me: I'm not sure about the Emirates, but I know that if I travel to Saudi Arabia, I will have to don an abaya right in the airport. And as mush as I resent the idea, I would absolutely do it out of respect for the country I'm visiting. I understand that the Saudi people find my low-cut blouses and short skirts offensive. While I don't share their beliefs about the need to restrict female freedom, I don't think it's my place to defy them in their own country. If I can't put up with the humiliation of an abaya (which I can't), this means I will not be travelling to their country any time soon.
So my question is: why is it that my culture deserves less respect from niqab-wearing people? And also: why do we infantilize these people to the extent where we don't demand from them the same tolerance and understanding of cultural differences that we are prepared to exhibit when visiting their countries? If I am expected to put on an abaya in a Saudi airport, why doesn't a Saudi woman remove hers in an airport of a country where women have won - after long and painful struggles - the right not to be considered anybody's property?
And please don't mention religion to me in this context because, as everybody knows, niqab has nothing to do with Islam.