The town of Trappes in Yvelines department (county), just outside Paris, was again the scene of street disturbances Sunday night as protesters, thought to be mainly Muslims, faced off with local police and riot police.
Trappes and surrounding towns had also witnessed violent protests Friday and Saturday evening after police had attempted to book a Muslim woman for wearing a full face niqab in contravention of France’s so-called burqa ban.
Last night, police dispersed a few dozen protesters who had assembled close to the local police station. Trouble started when a firework was thrown towards police lines around 9 p.m. A squad of France’s CRS riot police responded by firing a tear gas canister to disperse the crowd. Local police had been reinforced by an estimated 20 riot vehicles carrying detachments of CRS.
On Friday night, a crowd, estimated at around 400, had thrown stones at police, burned rubbish bins, and destroyed a bus shelter. On Saturday night, all seemed to be calm until around 1 a.m. in the morning when a number around 20 vehicles, including a police car, were set ablaze in Trappes and nearby towns.
The violence stemmed from an incident last Thursday when police tried to carry out an identity check and give a ticket to a woman wearing a niqab — a Muslim full face veil — in contravention of France’s controversial burqa ban which came into force in April 2011. The French law banning the wearing of a full face veil in public includes the traditional burqa and niqab worn by some Muslim women. Anyone contravening the law, which prohibits the concealing of the face in a public space, faces an on-the-spot fine of up to 150 euros and/or the possibility of being sent on a citizenship course.
The woman’s husband, a French man who was a convert to Islam, took exception to his wife being booked by the police and intervened. According to the police, the woman’s husband tried to strangle one of the police officers and was arrested for assault. The woman involved told France’s Collective against Islamophobia (CCIF) that the police were to blame.
The actions of French police over the incident involving the full face veil were criticized by CCIF on their website. CCIF condemned what they saw as the uncritical media coverage in France of the police, whose version of events, they say, is always preferred. In contrast, CCIF referred to the perception that Muslims “are systematically assumed guilty.” The organization made reference to racism and Islamophobia in France being “now clearly institutionalized and legitimized” and called upon France’s Interior Minister Manuel Valls, referring to Valls' declaration a few days earlier of his “affection” towards French Muslims, “to take concrete action to put a stop to this Islamophobic wave in our country”.
On Sunday, Manuel Valls had called for calm after the disturbances in Trappes on Friday and Saturday nights. The Minister said he didn’t doubt “for a single instant” that the attitude of the police officers in attempting to ticket the Muslim woman for wearing a full face veil had been respectful. Valls also said "The veil that denies the very identity of the woman has no place in the public space."