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.

French UMP Minister pushes for headscarf ban in National Assembly

Northern UMP deputy member Françoise Hostalier has proposed a similar legislation against headscarves in the National Assembly to the 2004 prohibition of conspicuous religious signs in public schools.

Hostalier’s request comes in the wake of students who “provocatively” wore hijabs in the National Assembly in a recent visit. On November 19 in response to protest among its members, the National Assembly president Bernard Accoyer stated that no regulations authorize persons to be refused into the tribunal based on their dress. Mohammed Moussaoui, the president of the CFCM (French Council of the Muslim Faith) responded that while several members have pushed for the invisibility of Islam in the public sphere that the issue has to be faced moderately.

Report Claims that Burqa use in France is Marginal

Two French police intelligence agencies have issued reports calling burqa use in the country a “marginal phenomenon,” one of which claimed fewer than 400 women wear the full-body covering. The wearing of burqas has been a controversial issue in France. French legislators have pondered banning the use of burqas and niqabs, full-face veils that ,unlike burqas, do no not obscure use of the wearer’s eyes altogether.

One of the reports, released by French intelligence agency Sous-direction de l’information générale, found only 367 women in France wear the burqa. But the report does not claim that number is a comprehensive figure, and urges further study into the issue, Le Monde reported. A committee of 32 legislators from all four major political parties in the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, is expected to deliver its report on whether burqas should be banned by the end of the year. André Gerin called the new estimates “ridiculous.”

Le Figaro Interviews Jacques Myard and Mohammed Mousssaoui on the Significance of the Burqa in France

This Le Figaro interview features Jacques Myard, member of the National Assembly (UMP) who represents the Yvelines department, and Mohammed Moussaoui, president of the CFCM (the French Council of the Muslim Faith). The former expresses the necessity to ban burqas in France to protect the status of women, while the latter claims that such a law would unfairly restrict freedom of expression and religion.

Deputies pass voluntary DNA tests for would-be immigrants

PARIS (AFP) – The French National Assembly early Thursday passed a watered-down version of a controversial measure opening the way to DNA testing of would-be immigrants wanting to join their families. The lower house of parliament also adopted the principal measure in a government bill tightening the rules for immigrants: an evaluation in the candidates’ home countries of their knowledge of the French language and the “values of the Republic.” Drawn up by Immigration Minister Brice Hortefeux, the bill imposes new conditions for relatives wishing to join families in France, including knowledge of the French language and proof of financial resources.

French Public Accepting of Religious and Ethnic Minorities: But most are uncomfortable with outward signs of piousness

PRINCETON, NJ — Hopes that France’s recent legislative elections would result in greater ethnic representation to reflect the country’s diversity were dashed when only one of the 555 National Assembly seats for metropolitan France went to a minority candidate. But at the Hôtel Matignon, the government’s Paris headquarters, the situation looked a bit brighter for advocates of diversity. Three individuals visibly identifiable as minorities out of 19 portfolios now hold minister-level posts. And President Nicolas Sarkozy’s highest profile appointment went to Rachida Dati, a female lawyer of North African ancestry, who heads the Justice Ministry.

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Women Make Gains in French Parliament, But Minorities Struggle

Women hold a record number of seats in the new French parliament, including the first ever black female deputy elected on the mainland, but legislative elections Sunday failed to radically shift the balance in a chamber still dominated by white men. Political parties on the left and right were under pressure to boost the share of women and black and Arab lawmakers in the National Assembly. They can claim a partial success: 107 of the assembly’s 577 seats went to women candidates, a jump of 31 deputies compared to the outgoing chamber. With 18.5 percent of seats now held by women, France lifts its country ranking in terms of women’s representation in parliament from an embarrassing 86th to 58th spot, in between Venezuela and Nicaragua. Coming after Segolene Royal’s failed bid to become France’s first woman president, the result — which ushers in 61 women lawmakers on the left and 46 on the right — was greeted as a step in the right direction. It also follows the appointment by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France’s first government with gender parity, with seven of 15 cabinet posts held by women, a balance expected to remain following this week’s government reshuffle. But Le Monde newspaper said the improved number of women in parliament — lifting France just above the European average of 17.7 percent — was in itself “nothing to be proud of.” France sought to boost the number of women in parliament with a 2000 law obliging parties to field an equal number of men and women candidates, but it has only been partly followed despite heavy fines for offending parties.

No Breakthrough for Minority Candidates in French Vote

French parliamentary elections failed to provide the hoped-for boost in the number of black and Arab lawmakers, with voters returning just one minority candidate from the mainland. President Nicolas Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party had 12 minority candidates running for election, mostly in the Paris region, and the opposition Socialists had 20 vying for seats. But the only one to win was George Pau-Langevin, a black lawyer from the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, who was elected to a seat in eastern Paris on a Socialist Party ticket. Fifteen other black deputies were elected to the 577-seat National Assembly, all in overseas territories where the majority of the population is black. Although France is home to Europe’s biggest Muslim community, with about five million people, mainly descendants of immigrants from north and sub-Saharan Africa, no candidates of African origin were elected. “We regret that the republic’s diversity will not be represented in the National Assembly, because political parties did not give it enough importance,” the French Council of Muslim Democrats said in a statement Monday.

Forging A Voice In ‘France’s High-Rise Hell

CLICHY-SOUS-BOIS, France – In the United States, the word “suburb” may conjure up images of bedroom communities with neat, tree-lined streets and good schools – a haven from the hustle and flow of city life. Not so in France. This Paris suburb ( banlieue ), a tinderbox of crime, sky-high youth unemployment and minority disaffection, spectacularly burst into flames last fall as riots gripped hundreds of ghettoes across France. Unrest, though less severe, again plagued Paris suburbs last week. Among other issues, the fury in the streets among the mostly Muslim youth has underscored the lack of political representation for this growing segment of French society. The National Intelligence Council estimates that Western Europe’s Muslim population, which is now as high as 20 million, will more than double by 2025. Coupled with a graying indigenous population, that would mean the continent’s largest population shift in centuries. France has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe at 6 million (out of a population of around 60 million), although precise figures are hard to come by because the state officially does not tally ethnicity or religion. Yet, none of the 555 deputies in the French National Assembly is Muslim. […]

Europe Battles Islam’s Rise, Via Head Scarves

By Mathew Schofield With immigration from Muslim countries rising throughout Europe, politicians across the continent are pushing for laws reining in the Muslim community. Often the legislation is being introduced by politicians who represent centrist and leftist parties that traditionally champion human rights. The movement has little opposition. When France’s 577-member National Assembly approved the head-scarf ban last month, only 36 legislators voted against it. The margin was just as one-sided when the Senate gave it final approval Wednesday, 276-20. Top French officials, including President Jacques Chirac, have said the ban will help preserve France’s secular national character. Muslims have become fair game for a number of European political factions. Feminists say the head scarf is a sign of the oppression of women. On the right, politicians say Muslims will tear apart the fabric of all that’s European.