France brushes off US criticism of burqa ban
Paris on Tuesday brushed off a US State Department report that criticised France for banning Muslim women from wearing full veils.
“Our conception of secularism is a common heritage of all French people, which implies rules that encourage social harmony in the public space and in public schools,” said a foreign ministry spokesman.
In its 2011 International Religious Freedom Report, the State Department complains about a “rising number of European countries, including Belgium and France, whose laws restricting dress adversely affected Muslims and others”.
The French spokesman noted that France and its neighbours were seeking to define “more structured European Union policies to defend freedom of religion in the world”.
Belgium and France have angered many Muslims with laws against full veils, such as the niqab worn by many women in Saudi Arabia or the Afghan burqa, which went into force last year.
US President Barack Obama fiercely criticised European moves to ban the veil in a major speech to the Muslim world in Cairo in 2009.
But in Europe, where many voters feel large Muslim immigrant populations are not integrating well and that Islam poses a threat to women’s rights, many see France and Belgium as leading the way on this issue.