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Coronavirus exposed the real reasons behind France's 'burqa ban'

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Amid the coronavirus pandemic, France is faced with a paradox: It has just made the wearing of masks compulsory in certain public spaces, but maintained the years-long ban on Muslim full-face veils. This suggests, as the Washington Post recently noted, "if an observant Muslim woman wanted to get on the Paris Metro, she would be required to remove her burqa and replace it with a mask".

The French government made the use of face masks in public mandatory on May 10 in an effort to safely ease the country's strict coronavirus lockdown. More than 50 other countries, from Germany to Uganda, had previously passed similar laws and provisions to stem the spread of the virus and get people back to work.

While in most countries the discussion about compulsory face masks focused on the effectiveness of the measure, in France, where not long ago the government proudly stated that "the Republic lives with its face uncovered", this decision raised questions about the way the state defines French identity and values.

Face coverings started to be discussed in the context of French national identity for the first time more than a decade ago, during Nicolas Sarkozy's presidency.

In October 2008, the High Authority for the Fight against Discrimination and for Equality (HALDE), France's public watchdog group on discrimination, equated the wearing of a burqa to the "submission of women" in a ruling over an administrative decision that denied a woman wearing the garment access to the French-language classes that were required for her to remain in France. As it sided with the public authority that took the controversial decision, the watchdog said: "The burqa carries the meaning of the submission of women which goes beyond its religious........

© Al Jazeera