More than 200 people clashed with police and torched 20 cars west of Paris over the weekend, apparently in protest over police enforcement of France’s face veil ban. Five people were injured and six detained, authorities said on Saturday.
“Police did their job perfectly," Interior Minister Manuel Valls told RTL radio, according to a Chicago Tribune report. “The law banning full-face veils is a law in the interests of women and against those values having nothing to do with our traditions and values. It must be enforced everywhere.”
Valls urged calm and dialogue, insisting on both the need for public order and respect for France’s Muslims. The incident in the town of Trappes on Friday night reflected sporadic tensions between police upholding France’s strict policies of secularism and those who accuse authorities of discriminating against Islam, France’s second largest religion.
Riot police deployed around the town on Saturday night in anticipation of more violence, but the tension seemed to dissipate. The Friday night violence came after several hundred people gathered to protest the arrest of a man whose wife was ticketed Thursday for wearing a face veil. The husband tried to strangle the ticketing officer, the prosecutor said.
France banned face veils in public in 2011. Proponents of the ban—which enjoyed wide public support across the political spectrum—argue the veil oppresses women and contradicts France’s principles of secularism, which are enshrined in the constitution. In addition to small fines or citizenship classes for women wearing veils, the law includes a hefty 30,000 euro ($39,370) fine for anyone who forces a woman to wear one.
While Valls pledged to stand against those who attack “our compatriots of Muslim faith,” he also emphasized there was no reason for the kind of violence that happened on Friday: “The law should be applied, and applies to everyone.”
The face veil riots are the latest protests over morality to spark violence in the secular nation in the last six months. Earlier this year, proponents of traditional family values traveled from the French countryside to Paris to protest the legalization of same-sex marriage. Despite widespread opposition, lawmakers gave homosexual couples the right to marry and adopt children, something even the secular French say is a bad idea for both children and society.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.