Burqa ban in France to take effect from April 11 2011

News Agencies – March 3, 2011

Women will face prison for hiding their faces under the cloak – as will men who force their wives to wear one. The law, which will take effect from April 11, brands the garment ‘an insult to the country’s values’. It will make France the second country in Europe after Belgium to outlaw Muslim headwear that hides the face. President Nicolas Sarkozy has described the burqa as a ‘sign of debasement’.

The law was voted through last October after a year of heated national debate – and despite threats from al-Qaeda leaders to seek ‘dreadful revenge’ if it is enforced. The ban applies to all public spaces including streets, shops, restaurants, cinemas, theatres, sports stadiums and behind the wheel of a car on a public road.

Under the new rules, men can be fined up to £25,000 and jailed for a year for forcing their wives to wear a burka or a niqab (full face veil). Women will face a smaller fine of around £130 because they are ‘often victims who are not given any choice’, the law states. Repeat offenders who refuse to pay their fines will be sent to prison.

Council forbids pork and wine buffet outside Muslim prayer hall

News Agencies – March 2, 2011

Authorities in the French city of Nice have forbidden a far-right group to hold a “porchetta and rosé apéritif” outside a Muslim prayer hall. The Nissa Rebela nationalist group says it has already submitted a second request for permission for the event after its first was rejected. The permit was denied on technical grounds, according to the Alpes-Maritimes regional council.
Under French law, organisers must seek a licence for all public gatherings at least three days before the event takes place. Nissa Rebela applied after this deadline, the council said.
The group’s members could face six months in prison and a 7,500-euro fine if they go ahead with the event without permission.

But Nissa Rebela insists that the event is still on. The group is calling its supporters to gather outside a Muslim prayer hall on Nice’s rue de la Suisse, where it will be serving pork and wine.
The worshippers at the hall have been conducting evening prayers in the street, since they say the building is too small to house them. Anti-racism groups and local politicians have strongly condemned Nissa Rebela’s plans. The event is deliberately provocative and designed to stir up hatred, said the mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi.

Sarkozy’s Islam debate opens rift in French ruling party

News Agencies – March 4, 2011

President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plans to hold a national debate on the role of Islam in French society has opened a rare rift in his centre-right party, potentially damaging his credibility ahead of a presidential election. Fears about the role of Islam in France’s secular society have become a key campaign theme in the wake of controversies — largely fed by the far-right — over Muslims praying in the street, halal-only fast-food restaurants and full-face veils. With Sarkozy intent on keeping moderate voters from defecting to the far-right, he has encouraged the ruling UMP party to hold a public debate starting on April 5 to discuss the compatibility between Islam and France’s secular values.

But weeks before the debate has begun, and with little clue as to its format, dissent within the UMP over the wisdom of the idea has hurt Sarkozy’s credibility, hinting that his leadership of the party is less than ironclad. National Front leader Marine Le Pen has been gaining points in the polls for pounding home the idea that Islam has become an encroaching presence in French society. The only politician to welcome the idea was Le Pen, who mocked the UMP by saying that a debate on Islam would help her party to win 25 percent of the vote during the election.

One issue the UMP intends to address is public financing for mosques after the controversy over street prayers shone a light on the lack of suitable mosque space for Muslims in France. A 1905 law separating church and state forbids the use of taxpayer money to support any faith.

French Minister of Education says headscarf-wearing women cannot enter school grounds

News Agencies – March 3, 2011

The French Minister of Education, Luc Chatel, has written in support of a school director in Seine Saint-Denis who refused to meet headscarf-wearing women at the entrance of a public school. Parents must accept “neutrality” if they come close to the school, said the principal. The decision counters that of a 2007 position which allowed mothers to enter the school.