French anti-burka law 'won't work': Muslim scholar
France's proposal to ban the burka is not the right way to get Muslim women to stop wearing the full Islamic veil, Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan said here Thursday.
"The French... are responding to the burka, the niqab by restricting freedom and I think that's not going to work," Ramadan said during one of his first visits to the United States since a travel ban imposed on him by the administration of President George W. Bush was lifted.
"We have to be very cautious not to translate every sensitive issue into a legal issue," said the professor of Islamic studies at Oxford University.
"Don't go that direction, speak more about education, psychology, changing mentality. It takes time but... for me, we can do the job as Muslims by saying the burka and niqab are not Islamic prescriptions," he said.
President Nicolas Sarkozy has declared the burka not welcome in France, calling it an affront to French values that denigrates women.
France's National Assembly will begin debate in early July on a bill banning Muslim women from wearing the full Islamic veil, Prime Minister Francois Fillon told lawmakers in France earlier Tuesday.
A final draft of the legislation outlawing the face-covering veil from all public spaces as well as state institutions is to be approved by the cabinet on May 19, said aides to Fillon.
Ramadan also had a message for his fellow Muslims about how to deal with Westerners who lampoon religious figures, and Islam's Prophet Mohammed in particular.
Muslim extremists have threatened to kill a Danish cartoonist who caricatured the prophet Mohammed, and more recently warned the creators of US animated television series Southpark that they risked the same fate as slain Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, who was murdered by a Muslim extremist in Amsterdam in 2004.
"To ridicule religion is part of the Western culture," Ramadan said.
"When we had this cartoonist in Denmark and even here now with this new story about the cartoon (Southpark), let's just take some intellectual distance from this.
"Take a critical distance but let the people understand around you even if it's legal, you don't like it. React by saying I don't like this, this isn't me, I am not laughing at religion," he said.
Ramadan had been all set to take a teaching position at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana in late 2004 when he was abruptly denied a visa to come to the United States to work.
The travel ban, which US authorities eventually pinned to Ramadan having donated money to a Swiss charity that helps Palestinians, was lifted earlier this year.
Ramadan has also been banned from traveling to several countries in the Middle East and North Africa, including Egypt, Tunisia and Syria.
Those travel bans were imposed because he had "disagreed with the authorities there," he told AFP.
Ramadan is currently a professor Islamic studies at Oxford University in Britain, president of a Brussels-based think-tank, the European Muslim Network, and the author of more than 20 books on Islam.
© 2010 AFP