Polygamy suspect gives boost to veil ban
THE fining of a French Muslim woman for driving whilst wearing a niqab, or face veil, has somersaulted in the space of a weekend from political embarrassment to political windfall for President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Controversy raged yesterday after the government alleged that the husband of the fined woman was a suspected polygamist and social security fraudster with possible links to an extreme Islamist organisation.
Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux, who made the allegations, was accused by moderate Muslim groups and left-wing politicians of cynical "exploitation" of the affair for political gain.
It was revealed last Friday that Anne Hebbadj (31), a French woman who has converted to Islam, had been given an instant €22 fine earlier this month for driving in Nantes, in western France, while wearing a face veil, or niqab.
National debate on the incident dwelled on the "burkaphobia" generated by the gover- nment's plan to ban the full-length veil from public places.
However, the media spotlight instantly switched over the weekend to Mrs Hebbadj's husband, Lies Hebbadj (35), an Algerian-born butcher and taxi operator, said to be living in three bungalows near Nantes with his 12 children and three or maybe four, fully veiled women.
In a letter to the immigration minister, which was released to the press, Mr Hortefeux said that "according to information at my disposal", Mr Hebbadj belonged to a radical Islamist group called Tabligh. The minister said that Mr Hebbadj was "thought to be living in a polygamous situation with four women". Each woman was "believed to be" claiming benefit as a single mother.
Mr Hortefeux said that he had asked for an investigation into "possible polygamy and fraud".
By associating the veil with extremists, polygamy and fraud, the government hopes to seize control of a "burka" debate which had threatened to spin out of control. It was announced last week that the government would use emergency procedures to push through a complete ban on the burka in public places by July.
The mayor of Nantes, Jean-Marc Ayrault, accused the government of "dramatising and exploiting" the affair. (© Independent News Service)