When I lived in Russia a few years ago and was traveling back after a trip to the States, the passport control officer asked me to remove my headscarf. It was a long flight and I don’t travel with a wig on my head. As an Orthodox woman, I do cover my hair with a wig, hat or scarf whenever I’m in public.
In a moment of panic and fear, I did it. Then immediately afterward felt shame for giving in and relinquishing my beliefs in that moment just to appease this officer, no matter how Russian or scary he looked.
I can’t even imagine the horror Sarah*, a 67-year-old woman in France was experiencing when she wasn’t just asked to remove her wig but when it was forcibly removed from her head.
Sarah is not her real name, it’s changed to protect her privacy. According to her report against the police officers in question, Sarah was accused of failing to comply with police instructions. Sarah responded by saying what happened to her was an act of “sexist and antisemitic violence.”
She also claims that this is just one incident in a string of other sexist and antisemitic behavior from the police.
Sarah tried to stand up for herself in September, filing a complaint with France’s General Inspectorate of the National Police which is known as the police of the police, but her claim was dismissed due to it not being a “serious offense.”
She didn’t stop there though. This month, she decided to take legal action which is currently ongoing.
There is a video of the incident taking place where Sarah is lying on the floor with her hand over her head. Her screams are chilling. I can’t imagine a situation where it would be okay to forcibly rip a woman’s wig off her head unless the officer was antisemitic.
If for some reason, they felt like her head needed to be searched in some way, which feels extremely unlikely, then they could have done so respectfully.
I feel for Sarah, the fear going through her veins in that moment, the shame at having her hair removed, a part of our body that is considered “nakedness” after marriage. Even if one doesn’t agree with the custom, everyone’s religious beliefs deserve to be protected and respected.
If an officer forcibly removed a woman’s hijab, would we just be okay with that? Made a nun remove her dress? I highly doubt it would happen.
Sarah, we are with you and may you get to live with peace.