French legislature’s report on the burqa ban

A 32-member multiparty panel led by André Gerin presented a panoply of recommendations aimed at dissuading Muslim women from wearing full-face covering headscarves in this report. Another recommendation: denying resident cards and citizenship to women who wear all-encompassing veils.

The panel was bitterly divided over recommending a ban on face-covering veils on the street, and that was not among the 15 recommendations retained after a vote. President Nicolas Sarkozy put the issue before the French in June when he told a joint gathering of parliament that face-covering veils “are not welcome” in France.

Only several thousand women in France are thought to wear burqa-style garments, usually pinning a “niqab” across their faces to go with their long, dark robes. Such veils are widely seen as a gateway to extremism and an attack on gender equality and secularism, a basic value of modern-day France.

“The all-enveloping veil represents, in an extraordinary way, everything that France instinctively rejects. This is the symbol of the enslavement of women and the banner … of extremist fundamentalism,” said Bernard Accoyer, president of the National Assembly, the lower house, after being presented with the report.

Despite the acrimony, this recommendation to ban the veils in public sector facilities could be in place “before the end of the year,” conservative lawmaker Eric Raoult, the panel’s No. 2, told The Associated Press. “We need maybe six months or a little more to explain what we want,” he told The AP, adding that “by the end of 2010” there could be such an interdiction.

Hours after the report was presented, President Sarkozy visited a Muslim cemetery in northern France that has been desecrated twice. Secularism, he said in a speech honoring Muslims who fought and died for France, “is not the negation of religion.” But it is “an essential component of our identity.”

The president of the parliamentary panel, André Gerin, has stressed that the goal of any ban is not to stigmatize women with face-covering veils but to rout out people he calls “gurus” who indoctrinate and force even young girls to cover themselves.

The recommendations show attention, too, to public sector employees dealing with women in full veil who refuse to remove it. In particular, there have been reports of confrontations in hospital settings in which a husband refuses to allow his wife to be treated by a male doctor. Also among the 15 recommendations that passed a panel vote is one calling for special training by state employees to manage such confrontations and another to “systematically signal” when minors are seen wearing full-body veils.

Neither the parliament nor the government is obliged to act on the panel’s recommendations. No action is likely before March regional elections.

Canadian Sheema Khan responds to possible French burqa ban

Following last month’s call by the Muslim Canadian Congress to ban the face-covering niqab, or buraa, about 30 Muslim groups across Canada denounced the proposal. Their basis: The state has no business dictating what a woman should wear, nor infringing on individual freedoms. Sheema Khan acknowledges, however, how legalities aside, many Canadians feel uncomfortable seeing the face-veil here. It represents a physical barrier, which has no precedent in our culture. It has also become a misogynous icon, due to the Taliban, and Saudi “religious” police. Security is an added concern. Finally, many assume veiled women are coerced into wearing “that thing.”

Yet, Khan highlights that the intentions of these women are diverse. For some, it is an act of faith to get closer to God. Some incur the disapproval of family, friends and community for taking this step; others are forced to do so by family members. Youthful defiance may play a role. As for security, veiled women readily comply with identification protocols when required.

Burqa-wearing woman denied French citizenship

The French government has decided to deny the nationality to a man over allegations that he has forced his French wife to wear the face-veil. “This case is about a religious radical,” said French Prime Minister François Fillon, following Immigration Minister Eric Besson’s admission about the case. “He imposes the burqa, he imposes the separation of men and women in his own home, and he refuses to shake the hands of women,” Fillon added.

It was not clear if the wife was forced to cover her face or it was her choice. The name and nationality of the man was not declared. Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie has called for denying Muslim men who force their wives to wear the full veil the citizenship.

Prime Minister Fillon even vowed to expel the man. “If this man does not want to change his attitude, he has no place in our country,” he said.”In any case, he does not deserve French nationality.” In 2008, a court denied a veiled Muslim woman the nationality for being “too submissive” to her husband and that her religious rituals were “incompatible” with French values.

French Catholics propose caution with possible burqa ban

Amid a heated debate about the Muslim veil, the French Catholic church warned Monday, February 1, against banning face-veils, calling on the European country to respect rights of its Muslim minority.

“The result could be the opposite of what is desired and lead to a reaction that increases the number of women wearing this garment,” said Bishop Michel Santier, the top French Catholic official for interreligious dialogue in a statement cited by Reuters. Santier regretted that the panel did not invite Christian or Jewish leaders to give their views during the six-month-long hearings, which ended in December. French Jewish leaders have already expressed concern about a veil ban.

Human rights watch condemns possible French burqa ban

Human Rights Watch has condemned France’s possible burqa ban for violating rights of Muslim women, warning the move could stigmatize the whole Muslim minority in the country. “We are still very concerned that the restrictions will seriously interfere with the rights of Muslim women in France – the right to manifest their religion and the right to personal autonomy,” Judith Sunderland, senior researcher for Western Europe at Human Rights Watch, told the Inter Press Service.

The rights group accused politicians championing the ban of taking the wrong approach to the integration of Muslim women. The human rights group warned that the French ban would stigmatize the Muslim minority in the country.

SPD politician Lale Akgün calls for banning the burqa

After the French debate, calls for banning the burqa are also being heard in Germany. Former MP Lale Akgün of the Social Democrat Party (SPD) said the burqa was a “full body prison”, violating human rights immensely. The German politician of Turkish background called for a ban in public spaces such as universities and schools as well as high security areas like banks and airports.

Most of her fellow SPD politicians, however, do not see a requirement for establishing a new law. Conservative party CDU and liberal FDP would only proscribe it where it conflicts with other liberties such as at schools. Green party leader Cem Özdemir says he cannot tolerate the burqa in public spaces, neither as a citizen, nor as a member of the Green party, but he also pointed out that the debate is a symbolic one and not tackling true conflicts; the number of women wearing a burqa in Germany was near to none.

Burqa ban in Sweden?

In a radio debate between Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt (moderate) and leader of the opposition Mona Sahlin (social democrat), Reinfeldt refused to give a straight answer on the possibility of banning of burqas in Sweden. “We don’t need to hide our faces in this way in Sweden”, Reinfeldt said. Sahlin said she was against a law, and that she is willing to fight for a woman’s right to wear a burqa if she wants. When asked again later, Reinfeldt said he doesn’t support a burqa or niqab ban, and that he had been hesitant earlier our of respect for President Sarkozy.

According to Svenska Dagbladet (Independently moderate) none of the parties in parliament officially supports a ban on burqas and niqabs. But individuals in the ruling coalition say they would like to a ban. “It’s un-hygenical and disgusting”, says Annelie Enochsson of the Christian Democratic Party.

According to a census made by Expressen (independently liberal) and the Swedish research consultancy Demoskop, 53 percent of the Swedish population wants a law against wearing burqa and niqab in public, while 46 percent is said to be against a prohibition.

British debate on banning Islamic dress unlikely to resemble the French

The French burqa debate has crossed the Channel. Despite calls from some groups for a full or partial ban on veils, there is currently no ban on Islamic dress in the UK – although schools were allowed to set out their own dress code in 2007 after several high-profile court cases. In January 2010, Schools Secretary Ed Balls said it was “not British” to tell people what to wear in the street.

But writing in the Independent, journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, who chairs the group British Muslims for Secular Democracy, said she supported restrictions on wearing the face veil in key public spaces. “This covering makes women invisible, invalidates their participatory rights and confirms them as evil temptresses.”

Proposed burqa ban in France ripples into Italy

After six months, the French parliamentary committee has released a 200-page report proposing an act banning the burqa and the niqab in public services and offices. However, the ban wouldn’t extend to all public spaces and it wouldn’t necessarily be a criminal offense.

The French government considers the burqa an offense to French national values. The strong French position expressed by President Sarkozy and the content of the parliamentary committee report, have ignited a political debate in Italy.

Mara Carfagna, the ministry for equal opportunities claims that the burqa is not welcome in our country and suggests a law banning this form of veiling in public spaces. In her opinion, indeed, the burqa is not a religious symbol but an abuse of power by men against women. The ban would be a crucial way to help young immigrant women to escape from ghettos where they are supposedly confined.

Franco Frattini, the Italian foreign minister doesn’t agree with a legal ban of the burqa, preferring to direct the argument towards a wider commitment to integration. The Lega Nord, instead, subscribes to the French position considering personal freedom to be balanced with the protection of security.

Differing opinions on the proposed ban exist from group to group. Four political initiatives link the burqa and the niqab to security: the Lega Nord, Souad Sbai (PDL), UDC and the PD (Demcratic Party), who proposes to allow religious, ethnic or cultural freedom in garment choice on the condition that faces remain uncovered. Of Muslim groups, Ahmad Giampier, president of Muslim Italian Intellectuals supports a ban, while Yunus Distefano, COREIS’ spokeman, wants to ensure Islam isn’t seen as a fundamentalist ideology. He believes the veil is a spiritual symbol but unfortunately, some misuse it. However., he feels this is an anomaly, and isn’t Islamic.