French parliament moves closer to veil ban

11th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

French lawmakers will vote on a resolution Tuesday condemning the full-face Islamic veil as an affront to the nation's values, setting the stage for a new law banning the burqa.

France is on course to become the second European country after Belgium to declare the wearing of the full veil illegal in public places, reviving debate on Islam's place in Europe.

President Nicolas Sarkozy's right-wing UMP party and the opposition Socialists along with other smaller parties have all agreed to back the non-binding resolution in the National Assembly.

The vote will set the tone for debate in July on broad legislation that will make it illegal for reasons of security to wear face-covering veils anywhere in public.

Next week, Sarkozy's cabinet will examine a draft bill that will impose fines on women who wear the full veil and threaten men who force their wives or daughters to cover themselves with imprisonment.

Debate on the burqa ban has prompted warnings that it could stoke tension in a country that is home to Europe's biggest Muslim minority, estimated at between five and six million.

The head of France's Council of the Muslim Faith, a government body created to promote inter-faith relations, warned that the veil ban risks leaving many Muslims feeling like outcasts.

"We do not want Islam to be stigmatised as a result of this law banning the full veil," said Mohamed Moussaoui, who met with lawmakers ahead of the vote.

"Rather than enacting a law barring women from expressing their malaise, we should think about what prompted them to want to cover themselves," he said.

In the resolution, lawmakers will declare that "radical practices which violate the dignity and equality between men and women, such as the wearing of the full veil, are contrary to the values of the republic."

Parliament "deems it necessary that all useful means be put in place to ensure the protection of women who are subjected to violence and pressure and in particular are forced to wear the full veil," it says.

While the resolution has succeeded in garnering a consensus, the draft legislation on banning the face-covering veils is a bone of contention.

Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry warned Tuesday that a complete ban on the veil will not be "feasible, risks being a source of stigmatisation and mostly be inefficient because it cannot be implemented."

The opposition is calling on the government to restrict the ban to state institutions to avoid a court challenge that would derail the legislation.

After declaring the burqa "unwelcome" in secular France, Sarkozy last month moved to support legislation on a total ban despite warnings from the State Council, a top administrative body, that it may be unconstitutional.

Coming on the heels of the government's national identity debate, the anti-burqa drive is seen by Sarkozy's critics as pandering to the far right.

Supporters of the ban argue they are not attacking religious freedoms but rather upholding women's rights.

Opponents warn that the move will stigmatise French Muslims by taking aim at a tiny minority -- fewer than 2,000 women, according to the interior ministry -- who wear the head-to-toe veil.

French politicians have said the law will also apply to wealthy tourists from the Middle East and the Gulf who are often seen fully veiled in luxury shops on the Paris boulevards.

The debate on the resolution is to begin at around 1430 GMT.

© 2010 AFP

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