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MARSEILLES

Passenger hits driver in ‘burqa ban’ bust-up

A bus driver in Marseilles has gone on sick leave after being assaulted by a passenger on Monday evening for refusing to allow a veiled woman to board his bus unless she agreed to show her face.

Woman in Dubai wearing a hijab.
Glenn R Carter

The incident occurred when the number 19 bus pulled in at a bus stop near the city’s Prado beach at 6.30pm. on Monday, newspaper La Provence reports.

On seeing the woman attempt to board the bus with a friend, the driver requested that she remove the veil from her face in line with France’s new laws forbidding full-face coverings. 

According to a report in Le Parisien, the driver then announced to passengers that he would not resume the journey until the woman had revealed her face and he was satisfied that her identity matched that of the photo on her travel card.

The woman refused to comply with the request, La Provence said, preferring instead to step back down from the vehicle and wait for the next bus.

A number of young passengers who supported the woman’s stance then prevented the driver from closing the door and continuing along his route, calling him a racist.

A skirmish broke out and one of the passengers punched the driver in the face.

Police were called to the scene, but by the time they arrived most witnesses had fled. Officers questioned the women at the centre of the incident, who, though unrepentant, said that she had not intended to create a scene.

France’s prohibition of full-face coverings, often dubbed the ‘burqa ban’, came into force in October last year. Anyone refusing to show their face risks incurring a fine.

Marseilles public transport firm RTM said it was launching an internal investigation into the incident. Speaking to La Provence, RTM chief Karim Zéribi criticized what he called “the driver’s inappropriate reaction”, explaining that the company’s employees had received instructions not to challenge veiled passengers if they were in possession of valid travel cards.

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HIJAB

Woman fined for wearing headscarf on Cannes beach

A Toulouse woman says she was told to pay a fine or leave a Cannes beach for wearing a headscarf, French media reported. The city's mayor has defended the decision of police.

Woman fined for wearing headscarf on Cannes beach
File photo: Loic Venance/AFP

The incident took place on Tuesday, August 16th, when the 34-year-old former air hostess was on holiday in Cannes.

The woman, originally from Toulouse, was wearing leggings, a tunic and her hijab – a headscarf covering her hair – while at La Bocca beach with her family.

“I wasn't there to provoke anyone,” the mother, named as Siam, told French news magazine L'Obs.

She said that three police officers approached her on the beach and told her she had to remove her headscarf or pay a fine.

They read her some of the text of the recently passed ban, which says anyone using the city's beaches must be wearing “correct clothing, respecting secularism, hygiene rules and security.” 

But Siam couldn't understand why her floral-patterned headscarf was considered as an “ostentatious” sign of religion, and says she wasn't planning to swim, so it couldn't have been due to reasons of hygiene.

However, the police reportedly ignored her protests and a crowd gathered around the family,

A journalist for France 4, Mathilde Cusin, watched the incident unfold. “I felt like I was watching a pack of hounds attack a woman who was sitting down, in tears, with her young daughter,” she said.

“Racist terms were used freely,” said Siam. “I was stunned. I heard things which no one had ever said to me, like 'Go home!' and 'we're Catholics here!'”

While some people defended the 34-year-old, Siam says around three quarters of beachgoers took the side of the police and demanded that she remove the veil or leave the beach. In the end, she paid the €11 fine, and has since contacted the Collectif Contre l'Islamophobie, a French organization which protects Muslims' rights.

Siam said the incident left her feeling “humiliated” and that she felt she was fined simply for being a Muslim.

The mayor of Cannes, David Lisnard, has supported the police officers, arguing that they were within their rights to fine anyone considered to be wearing an “ostentatious” symbol of faith, and that he had “no reason to doubt their judgment,”, according to La Depeche newspaper.

However, Lisnard confirmed that wearers of the hijab should not be affected by the ban and that anyone who felt they had been unjustly fined could contest the case, something Siam plans to do. He added that he didn't want Muslims to feel unwelcome on the beach, and said people of all religions were welcome. 

For Siam, this was the first time she had suffered discrimination, and she had hesitated to speak out about the experience for fear of drawing more negative attention, but decided to tell her story because of how shocked she was by the experience.

“My parents are French, my grandparents are French.. when they tell me to 'go home', it makes me laugh, it's racism, pure and simple.”

“In the country of human rights, I don't see any trace of the principles of liberté, égalité or fraternité,” said Siam.

The banning of the burqini, the full-body Islamic swimsuit, in Cannes and numerous other French towns, has provoked a strong reaction both within the country and worldwide. 

According to AFP, the ban applies to: “Clothing showing religious faith in an ostentatious way, because France and religious sites are currently the target of terrorist attacks, is capable of creating risks to public order.” 

The head of municipal services for the town, Thierri Migoule, told AFP that the ban did not aim to target all signs of faith, but rather “ostentatious clothing which refers to an allegiance to terrorist movements with whom we are at war.”