Amid heated debates, French lawmakers are wrestling with a compromise over a proposed ban on the wearing of face-veil by Muslim women. “We will talk about the idea of a law, about the need to take time to prepare it and to avoid stigmatization,” said MP André Gerin, head of the parliamentary commission on the issue.
Gerin, who spearheaded the anti-burqa campaign, said the next step will be a law imposing a ban on the burqa. Many lawmakers have voiced skepticism at the prospect of police forcing women to lift their veils in public, leaving the parliamentary committee mulling more applicable compromises. The initial proposal is to impose fines of up to €750 on people covering their faces in all public places.
President Nicolas Sarkozy’s ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) has already introduced a draft bill with the proposal in the National Assembly. But Gerin recommended a more selective ban applying only to public buildings and schools. The conclusions of the special panel are going to be released in a report by the end of January.
Prime Minister Francois Fillon also waded into the fray saying he was in favor of a ban. He said the parliament should adopt a resolution outlining France’s rejection of the burqa and that several legislative texts and regulations should follow.
Led by Jean-François Copé, Nicolas Sarkozy’s political party, the UMP or the Union for a Popular Movement, has launched a website to consider and debate the niqab and burqa in the Republic: http://la-burqa-en-debat.fr/. The website includes polls, definitions, video stream and position pieces by elected officials, as well as additional information links on the subject.
Reaction to the website has been mixed. Farhad Khosrokhavar, sociologist and director of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, notes how the website makes the phenomenon appear far more widespread than it is.
In his first interview with with the French Media, President Obama notes his close friendship with French President Nicholas Sarkozy and his motivations for attempting a better dialogue between East and West. Obama adds that the United States is home to many Muslims, and therefore there is national interest for such dialogue. While bemoaning his terrible French, Obama cites many of the things in France, especially from Provence, that Americans love like the cuisine and the wine.
National Front vice-president Marine Le Pen has offered her reflections on what President Nicholas Sarkozy has termed “positive secularism.” On the occasion of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to France, Le Pen noted, “I have battled against positive secularism, but for reasons other than those I have seen in the newspapers in the last few days.” Le Pen adds that Sarkozy has sought to place Islam on equal footing with Islam, but that “Islam is not on par for historic reasons, it has been given a lot of attention because of the massive immigration to France in the last 30 years.” Le Pen believes that this interpretation of secularism works to bolster Islam in France to the detriment of others.
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France fell just short of a target to deport 25,000 illegal immigrants in 2007, according to figures released by Immigration Minister Brice Hortefeux. French authorities deported an estimated 23,000-24,000 immigrants, as part of a controversial clampdown first launched when President Nicholas Sarkozy was interior minister. Several rights groups including Amnesty International have protested against the campaign to meet deportation quotas, citing that many of those at risk are already well integrated into French society.