Tuesday, 26 January 2010

France takes first legislative steps towards Burqa ban

France took its first steps towards banning full Islamic veils on Tuesday (January 26) with the official publication of a parliamentary report recommending its prohibition in public buildings.
If it translates into law, it would be illegal for the very small number of women in France who wear full veils to visit a public building or carry out any administrative task such as applying for a driving licence or a passport while wearing a veil.

Public transport could well be off limits, as would picking up a package at the post office.

"It's the symbol of the enslavement of women and the standard -- as you write -- of extreme fundamentalism," National Assembly president Bernard Accoyer told members of the commission on receiving the report.

The ban is still a long way from becoming law and would apply to all forms of full veils -- the niqab, which shows a woman's eyes, or a full burqa where even the eyes are obscured by a mesh. Both have been dubbed 'burqas' by the French media.

The ban is one of a series of measures aimed at discouraging the use of full veils in France, home to Europe's largest Muslim community. Other measures proposed in the report include a tightening of immigration laws that could make it harder for women wearing full veils to enter the country and naturalise.

"These women aren't from another planet. They are our neighbours, often they are under our jurisdiction. And we don't want to abandon them to this internal exile, to this prison made of cloth, to the fundamentalists," said Eric Raoult, chairman of the parliamentary commission.

The so-called Burqa Commission which has been studying the phenomenon for the last six months failed to reach a cross-party consensus on a full ban which critics says is unenforceable.

Critics of the ban say it would violate womens' religious rights and warn that a ban on veiled women using public services would only marginalise them further.

Ministers say there is nothing in Islamic law that obliges women to wear a full veil and Muslem clerics in France are divided over the question. The heads of some large mosques have rejected full veils as incompatible with French traditions.

France's Muslim community is estimated to be about six million strong. Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said recently that 1,900 women wear full veils. Two thirds of them are French and about one quarter are converts to Islam under 40.

Several veiled women interviewed by the French news channel BFM shrugged off the ban.

"So long as we can satisfy God, that's the most important thing for us. The gaze of others is really not the most important thing. They won't be there the day that we die. They won't be there on the day of resurrection when we'll all be in front of our Lord."