The French government will seek to ban Muslim women from wearing full-face veils in public despite warnings from experts that such a law could be unconstitutional. A spokesman for President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government said a bill would be presented to ministers in May and would seek to ban the niqab and the burqa from streets, shops and markets, and not just from public buildings.
“We’re legislating for the future. Wearing a full veil is a sign of a community closing in on itself and of a rejection of our values,” Luc Chatel told reporters, on leaving a Cabinet meeting chaired by Mr. Sarkozy. Prime Minister Francois Fillon insisted the government would go ahead anyway, taking the risk that the eventual text would be struck down by the constitutional court, because of the importance of the issue.
There is strong support in parliament for such a ban and the government is determined to press on with a law, which it says would affect about 2,000 Muslim French women who cover their faces. According to Mr. Chatel, Mr. Sarkozy told his Cabinet the veil was an “assault on women’s dignity.”
With a compelling character, political talent and outspoken criticism of President Nicolas Sarkozy, Human Rights Minister Ramatoulaye Yade is emerging as France’s most popular political figure. She had never run for political office until chosen by Sarkozy as a spokesperson for his presidential campaign. Yade was appointed as France’s first-ever minister for human rights in May 2007. Her father is a Senegalese diplomat and politician. Despite her Muslim faith, she was educated at a Catholic school. Some warn that like Rachida Dati, the other high-profile “minority” minister, her popularity may wane quickly.
In Paris, Jewish and Muslim French women – the Batisseuses de Paix (a play on words on baking and peace building) continue to meet to make pastries together. They do not allow any talk of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Created in 2002, their aim is “to block the transfer of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into France.” Almost 50 women convened at their last meeting over mint tea at the Mediterranean Gardens kosher restaurant in the Parisian suburb of Creteil. The group has been both praised and criticised for not discussing the conflict. The group will soon gain an international dimension when it goes to New York in October 2008 to meet with American Jewish and Muslim women.
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