France May Ban Niqab

January 18, 2010 by  


niqab2 PARIS (AP) — A top lawmaker from President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative party filed legislation on Tuesday to bar Muslim women in France from appearing in public wearing veils that hide their faces.

The bill by lawmaker Jean-Francois Cope, who heads the UMP party in the National Assembly, or lower house, has sparked criticism from some of his political allies. The speaker of the lower house, Bernard Accoyer, called Cope’s move “premature.”

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A panel of lawmakers has held hearings for six months on the all-encompassing veils that cover all but a woman’s eyes. It is to advise parliament by month’s end whether it believes a law banning such garments is needed.

In further criticism from within Cope’s own party, Labor Minister Laurent Wauquiez accused the lawmaker of using the debate over veils for self-promotion because he failed to await the conclusions of the parliamentary mission.

Sarkozy opened the debate on such veils in June, saying they aren’t welcome in France — but without specifying whether he wants a law against them.

A 2004 law bans Muslim headscarves and other “ostentatious” religious symbols from classrooms. Only a tiny minority of Muslim women in France wear the more extreme covering — which is not required by Islam. However, Islam is the No. 2 religion in France after Roman Catholicism, and authorities worry that such dress may be a gateway to extremism. They also say it amounts to an insult to women and to France’s secular foundations.

There has been concern over how any law banning the full veil could be presented without infringing on constitutional rights.

Cope’s approach is based on public order and safety. Article 1 of his proposal stipulates that “no one, in places open to the public or on streets, may wear an outfit or an accessory whose effect is to hide the face” except those with legitimate motives formally recognized. This was an apparent reference to certain cultural events and carnivals such as Mardi Gras, which Cope said last week would be exempt from his legislation.

Women failing to abide by the law, were it passed, would be subject to fines that could reach euro750 ($1,070), according to a summary by Cope last week.

He also introduced on Tuesday a parallel resolution — which does not carry the weight of law — stressing the importance of respecting the nation’s values “in the face of the development of radical practices which harm them.” The resolution states that all-enveloping veils harm “dignity and equality between men and women” and are contrary to French values.

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