Apparently President Obama’s speech in Cairo has encouraged hundreds of French Muslim women to wear full veils, and French lawmakers are considering a new law banning those veils.
France had banned the use of all veils in public schools in 2004, and the country has now enacted a new law banning the hiding of one’s face during public demonstrations. At the same time, there is now a new debate on the burqa.
First, the new law banning the hiding one’s face during public demonstrations:
News agency EFE and Le Monde have the news: According to Le Monde, the law imposes a fine of 1,500 euros for voluntarily hiding one’s face for the purpose of not being identified during acts against the public order:
“le fait pour une personne, au sein ou aux abords immédiats d’une manifestation sur la voie publique, de dissimuler volontairement son visage afin de ne pas être identifiée dans des circonstances faisant craindre des atteintes à l’ordre public”.
However, the law provides an exception for “conforming to local use, or when hiding the face is justified by a legitimate reason.”
A casual observer from abroad may argue that the new law might be interpreted as banning the use of all facial coverings, such as burqas (the full-body covering with only a mesh screen over the eyes) and niqabs (a full body veil with slits for the eyes), but the French government says this law applies only during demonstrations.
The burqa issue is different, and more involved. The French government is studying the new trend of burqa wear and may end banning it. Voice of America’s headline is France Moves to Impose Ban on Burqa while AP says French government supports study of burqa wear. The second headline refers to a study,
France wants to study the small but growing trend of burqa wear, with an eye to possibly banning the Islamic garment from being worn in public, the government’s spokesman said Friday.
Luc Chatel told France-2 television that the government would seek to set up a parliamentary commission that could propose legislation aimed at barring Muslim women from wearing the burqa and other fully covering gowns outside the home.
“If we find that use of the burqa was very clearly imposed (on women) … we would draw the appropriate conclusions,” Chatel said. Asked whether that could mean legislation banning the burqa in France, he responded “why not?”
And now for the unintended consequences part – The Independent reports that it was President Obama’s Cairo speech that provoked the new debate on the burqa, because after hearing it many Muslim women decided to start wearing full-body veils:
The debate was re-opened by, of all people, President Barack Obama, who said in his speech in Cairo last week that Western nations should not impede the practice of Islam within their frontiers.
This comment was endorsed by M. Sarkozy but criticised by some French politicians, of both right and left, as an attack on France’s “headscarf law”. André Gerin, a Communist MP who represents a poor, multiracial area in the suburbs of Lyons, tabled a motion this week calling for a commission of inquiry into what he said was an explosion in the number of women wearing full-length veils in France. He said that this was a “direct response” to President Obama’s remarks.
At first, M. Gerin’s proposal seemed likely to go nowhere but his action was praised on Thursday by Fadela Amara, a left-wing crusader for Muslim women’s rights who joined the centre-right French government in 2007. Ms Amara, Minister for Urban Renewal, said she was “in favour of the total prohibition in France of the burqa … this coffin which kills the fundamental rights of women.”
She added: “You only have to go to certain markets, such as in the suburbs of Lyons, to see that there are more and more women wearing the burqa … These are women who are the prey of oppression, from masculine domination to fundamentalistic Islamic indoctrination.”
Earlier this month Aayan Hirsi Ali had deplored that Obama’s speech let down moderate Muslims. She addressed the issue of the veil:
I think he was just appeasing the Muslim world because they perceive–they have these notions that Muslim women in Western countries–are not allowed to wear the headscarf or cover themselves. I mean you can wear whatever you want in the United States.
In Egypt where he spoke, women who do not wear their veil in public are subjected to very obscene remarks on the street and even sexual assault. Nowadays, even if they are covered they become victims of the same things: That is, in public, in Egypt, as a woman, you run 80% of the time the risk of being assaulted simply because you are a woman walking down the street. They are forced into marriages; their testimony in countries where Sharia is law is just half of that of a man. They can be divorced with no rights. They need guardians, a married guardian or they cannot sign any legal papers. The President simply did not address Sharia or Islamic law in relation to women.
The 2004 French law applied only in schools and included all religious symbols; the new legislation would ban the wearing of full veils anywhere in public.