Wearing masks in public is against the law in most countries. Why shouldn’t it be in France? Here the French parliament bans the damn thing. And now let the chips fall where they may.
PARIS – France’s lower house of parliament overwhelmingly approved a ban on wearing burqa-style Islamic veils Tuesday, part of a concerted effort to define and protect French values that has disconcerted many in the country’s large Muslim community.
Proponents of the law say face-covering veils don’t square with the French ideal of women’s equality or its secular tradition. The bill is controversial abroad but popular in France, where its relatively few outspoken critics say conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy has resorted to xenophobia to attract far-right voters.
The main body representing French Muslims says such garb is not suitable in France, but it worries that the ban will stigmatize all Muslims.
In Tuesday’s vote at the National Assembly, there were 335 votes for the bill and just one against it. Most members of the main opposition group, the Socialist Party, walked out and refused to vote, though they in fact support a ban. They simply have differences over where it should be enforced, underscoring the lack of controversy among French politicians on the issue.
The bill passed Tuesday bans face-covering veils everywhere that can be considered public space, even in the street, but the Socialists only want it in certain places, such as government buildings, hospitals and public transport.
France’s government has sought to insist that assimilation is the only path for immigrants and minorities, and last year it launched a grand nationwide debate on what it means to be French. The country has had difficulty integrating generations of immigrants and their children, as witnessed by weeks of rioting by youths, many of them minorities, in troubled neighborhoods in 2005.
The niqab and burqa are also seen here as a gateway to extremism and an attack on secularism, a central value of France for more than a century. Discussions in France have dragged on for more than a year, since Sarkozy declared in June 2009 that the burqa is “not welcome” in France.
There has been some concern the bill could prod terror groups to eye France or its citizens as potential targets. Following Sarkozy’s comments, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb issued a statement on Web sites vowing to “seek vengeance against France.”
The legislation would forbid face-covering Muslim veils in all public places in France and calls for euro150 ($185) fines or citizenship classes, or both. The bill also is aimed at husbands and fathers — anyone convicted of forcing someone else to wear the garb risks a year of prison and a euro30,000 ($38,000) fine, with both penalties doubled if the victim is a minor.
It refers neither to Islam nor to veils. Officials insist the law against face-covering is not discriminatory because it would apply to everyone, not just Muslims. Yet they cite a host of exceptions, including motorcycle helmets, or masks for health reasons, fencing, skiing or carnivals.
While he says he opposes the full veils, he says a ban would be anti-democratic, and he is creating the fund “so that my country is not the disgrace of the whole world.” In Cairo, Islamic scholar Abdelmotie Bayoumi said a French ban would not violate Islamic law, but would violate personal freedoms. [lol]
“The niqab has no strong legitimacy based on Quran or in examples from the Prophet’s life that makes it a religious imposition on women. A Muslim woman wears the niqab not because of religious duty, but as a personal freedom,” said Bayoumi, whose books include “Contemporary Testimonies,” about the full-face veil.