Veiled threats

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When a Muslim woman was stopped by police for wearing a niqab while driving in Nantes, western France, last month it gave a warning of what may be to come.

Legislation is due to be tabled this month banning the burqa and niqab in public places in France, including transport, universities, hospitals, job centres and post offices. Women would have to "keep the face uncovered throughout their presence" or face "a refusal to deliver the service demanded". This is despite the fact that less than 2,000 - out of an estimated 1.5 million Muslim women who live in France - are known to wear it.

One of Nicolas Sarkozy's allies spotted a potential flaw in an outright ban on wearing the niqab in the street, which had been suggested by some politicians, when he asked, "What are we going to do about the Saudi women who like to come and spend money on the Champs Elysées?" But, apart from wealthy visitors, Muslim women who wear the niqab have been told by Sarkozy that their choice of dress "is not welcome in France".

Only the collapse of the Belgian coalition government prevented it being the first country in Europe to ban the burqa and niqab in public. Parliament was only hours away from taking a vote when the prime minister resigned over a row about electoral boundaries. The proposed law would have fined women wearing a niqab in public for a first "offence" and threatened them with a week in prison if they were stopped again.

Coming after the ban on building minarets in Switzerland, these developments show an intensification of Islamophobia in Europe. Next month Socialist Review will take an in-depth look at the rise in Islamophobia in Britain.