France: Move to ban wearing of the burqa

Earth Times
Five years after France prohibited the wearing of the Islamic headscarf in public schools, a movement is gathering momentum here for a more radical measure: outlawing the wearing of the burqa in public.
Earlier this month, a group of 58 law-makers introduced a parliamentary resolution calling for the creation of a committee of inquiry into the wearing of the burqa and niqab on French territory. A burqa is the most concealing of all Islamic veils as it covers the entire face and body, leaving only a mesh screen to see through. The niqab is a face veil that sometimes leaves the eyes clear and is sometimes worn with a separate eye veil.
Government spokesman Luc Chatel said Friday that a law against wearing the burqa was a serious option.

"If we see, very clearly, that wearing the burqa is contrary to republican principles, the government, the Parliament will draw all the necessary conclusions," he told France 2 television.

Asked if that meant a law prohibiting the garment, he replied, "Why not."

Junior Secretary for Urban Affairs Fadela Amara was more direct. "I am in favour of prohibition" of the burqa," she told France Info radio, describing it as "the visible and physical expression of fundamentalists."

And Socialist parliamentarian Christian Bataille, one of the signatories to the resolution, declared, "We have to put a stop to this phenomenon, which reflects the growth of Moslem fundamentalism."

According to its wording, the resolution's authors believe that the wearing of the burqa represents "an attack on the dignity of women," because when a woman wears it "her very existence is repudiated."

The resolution further declares: "The sight of these imprisoned women is intolerable for us when they come from Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia or certain other Arab countries. It is totally unacceptable on the soil of the French Republic."

The parliamentarians also affirm that "this degrading clothing" represents both a wife's "submissission to her spouse, to the men of the family" and "a negation of her citizenship."

The controversy over the 2004 law abolishing headscarves in French public schools has more or less faded away. But on June 6, at a joint press conference by US President Barack Obama and his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy, it led to an awkward moment.

Asked how he felt about the French law, Obama said, "I won't take responsibility for how other countries are going to approach this. I will tell you that in the US, our basic attitude is that we are not going to tell people what to wear."

A law that bans the wearing of religious clothing in public is going to be far more controversial.

In answering Obama on June 6, Sarkozy said that women could wear the headscarf in public "provided that's a decision she made freely and had not been forced on her by her family or entourage."

But such a constraint is always difficult to prove, especially if the women maintain that they wear the clothing of their own free will.

A 22-year-old woman named Sonia, who began wearing the burqa in January, told the daily Le Parisien, "Before, I didn't even wear a headscarf. I made my A-levels and I worked a bit. And then I truly encountered religion... I can not imagine dressing otherwise. It is my choice alone."

Although no data are available on the number of women living in France who wear the garment, politicians are reacting now because the custom appears to be spreading, particularly among young women like Sonia, who live in poor suburban ghetto neighbourhoods.

But the movement against the wearing of the burqa has been slowly gathering force in France.

In June 2008, the Council of State - the country's highest administrative court - refused to grant French citizenship to a Moroccan woman wearing a burqa, because it went against "the values of a democratic society and the principle of equality of the sexes."

In October of last year, France's anti-discrimination authority HALDE upheld the exclusion of a woman wearing the burqa from a French-language course required for naturalization.

The justification for this decision was that it was necessary for "the instructor to observe the faces of the pupils in order to see their expressions while forming the words."

In September, a law-maker from the ruling UMP party, Jacques Myard, tabled a bill outlawing the burqa. No action has yet been taken on it.

This may also be the fate of the resolution, because it is one thing to legislate what pupils may wear in public schools and quite another matter to ordain what an adult can wear in the streets.

"Everyone is free in the streets," Immigration Minister Eric Besso cautioned. "To interfere with this balance seems risky to me."

19 June 2009

Source: Earth Times