April 11, 2011 • 3:04 pm
A ban on wearing women wearing the Burka in public places, comes into force in France today, and has already led to some arrests.

However one statistic that has cropped up time and again in the UK press as the legislation made its way through the French Parliament is the claim that an estimated 2,000 women wear the veil in France.

But it is unclear exactly how this figure was arrived at, and if it represent an upper or lower estimate, if anything at all.

This morning’s Today programme reported: “About 2,000 are said to wear the full veil and even that is a generous estimate according to some charities.”

Curious as to how this claim could be made with any kind of surety, and wondering whether the 2,000 referred only to those wearing the Burka’s or if it also included the Niqab, Full Fact embarked on some cross-Channel checking of the facts.

Though the statistic apparently comes from French Interior Ministry data, the details on how it was calculated are a little thin on the ground.

Language barriers notwithstanding, this is because the report from which the figure originates by the Information Directorate of the Interior Ministry appears to be a confidential one, unavailable to members of the public (a Full Fact bete noire). The figure made its way into discourse on the subject after it was leaked to French Newspaper Le Figaro.

According to the paper, the figure was arrived at after French police were asked to estimate the number of traditionalist Salafist Muslims present in the country based on the number of places at which they worship. The Information Directorate of the Interior Ministry noted that the number “seems credible”.

The figure was also termed “reasonable” by Judge Andre Gerin, President of the Mission Parliamentaire (Parliamentary Committee) on the Burkha, although he argued that the number could still “an underestimate”.

Meanwhile, another leaked note produced by the the domestic intelligence department of the police suggested that there were just 367 women wearing the Burka in France, although in the article this is dismissed as “totally absurd” by M. Gerin.

So for now we are little clearer on how the figure was arrived at, and how reliable it is.

However, if you are aware of a French equivalent to Full Fact, or indeed are in a position to help us get to the bottom of this one please get in contact.

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