The formal imposition on Monday of the French ban on the full-face veil, which led to the prompt arrest of two women protesting the law, has been accompanied by the usual government invocations of French values, as well as issues of security and gender equality.
Barring the niqab from government buildings, public services, streets and entertainment venues has been the most passionately debated of these measures, with some arguing that it is a symbol of the subjugation of women. But only a tiny handful of France’s five million to six million Muslims ever don the full veil, and their decision to do so is patently not the business of the government or the police.
The ban serves only to encourage the spread of Muslim-bashing in France and elsewhere in Europe, helped along by statements like this one from the interior minister, Claude Guéant, blatantly portraying Islam as a religion alien to France: “There is no reason why the nation should accord to one particular religion more rights than religions that were formerly anchored in our country.”
Fortunately, even some of Mr. Sarkozy’s own officials have seen through these ploys. The prime minister, François Fillon, quietly put an end to the embarrassing “national debate” on French identity a year ago, and, more recently, he refused to take part in a similarly tainted debate on secularism. All major religious leaders, including the Catholic archbishop of Paris, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, also shunned the discussion.
Mr. Sarkozy and the rest of his party should follow these examples and stop their shameless exploitation of intolerance for political gain.