It's been a long time coming, but the controversial French law that bans Muslim women from wearing Islamic face coverings in public has officially gone into effect. Failure to comply with the law could mean a 150 euro fine (30,000+ euro fine for those forcing a women to wear the clothing), enrollment in citizenship classes and, possibly, a criminal record.
As a CNN Paris reporter explained: the burqa (which covers the entire face) and niqab (which covers everything but the eyes) have been officially banned but the hijab (which covers the head but leaves the face unveiled) is still legal. The BBC has a helpful illustrated slideshow that details the nuances between what's legal and illegal in Islamic head coverings.
For those unfamiliar with the debate, France becomes the first European Union country to enforce a ban of the traditional Islamic headgear. (Belgium has previously passed a burqa ban but hasn't reportedly enforced it. The Telegraph notes that Spain, Holland, and Switzerland are considering similar legislation).
The presumption behind such a ban, and the reason French lawmakers have incessantly cited, is that these religious head coverings are--in the words of President Nicolas Sarkozy--a "sign of debasement" that undermines the ideals of equality in a secular society. European Union nations, which are grappling with growing populations of Muslims, have considered bans as a way to reassert traditional secular values and halt the advance of a religious symbol--again in the words of Sarkozy--that is associated with "the subservience of women."
Naturally, the law is facing plenty of backlash already. Al Jazeera has published a searing opinion column attacking French hypocrisy and BBC News reports that two veiled women have already been arrested for inappropriately demonstrating against the ban (not for wearing the coverings themselves). In what could prove to foreshadow how hard it will be to enforce the ban, The Telegraph is noting that French police are proceeding "extremely cautiously" and have been ordered not to arrest women "in or around" mosques because they do not wish to provoke a violent protest.