French political parties position themselves on possible niqab ban

A political battle is shaping up in France over whether fully-veiled Muslim women should be banned from appearing on the street or in any other public settings, a proposal already endorsed by many of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s rightwing allies.

Sarkozy has said the head-to-toe garment is unwelcome on French soil. The leader of his party bloc in the National Assembly called it a “negation of life in society.” The spokesperson for the Socialist opposition condemned it as “a prison for women,” a description only slightly less damning than that of his Communist colleague who termed it “ambulatory prison.”

Five months after setting out to ban the burka, French politicians are with few exceptions divided only over how to go about it without violating constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression.

Several members of Sarkozy’s party have said they plan to introduce a bill to outlaw the wearing of the niqab in the next few days. Under the proposed bill, fines of up to €750 will be slapped on people covering their faces in public places.

Jean-François Copé, the party’s parliamentary leader, called the garment a threat by radical Islamists to the nation’s security. “Extremists are testing the republic by encouraging a practice they know to be contrary to the essential principles of our country,” he said.

Sarkozy has yet to say how he intends to handle the issue, although his aides have been quoted as saying he wants a “realistic” approach.