France leads Europe with burqa ban
On an overwhelming majority vote the French National Assembly July 13 passed a law banning the use of face coverings in public — a bill designed to give a lead in a Europe increasingly angered by fundamentalists opposed to assimilating into host cultures.
The bill was passed on the eve of Bastille Day– 221st celebration of the French revolution that broke with feudalism and ushered in new enlightened principles of citizenship, inalienable rights and a Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.
These indeed were the values informing the debate in the 577-seat National Assembly when deputies voted 335 to one for a total ban on covering the face in the public realm. The “prohibiting the concealment of the face in public space” bill makes no mention of burqas or niqabs — forms of dress suited to sandy Middle Eastern deserts from which they evolved, but in no way regarded as required dress under orthodox Islamic teaching. Deputies however left no one in any doubt that they spoke for the majority of their voters in opposing the practise of full veiling.
Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie told the assembly: “in France life is lived with a bare face.” She said face-covering veils “question the idea of integration, which is founded on the acceptance of the values of our society”. A Communist deputy Andre Gerin, who supported the ban, described the full veil as “a walking coffin, a muzzle.”
Indeed a cross-border Pew Research Centre poll conducted in April and May found that more than eight in ten French voters supported a ban while the figure in Germany was 71%, in Britain 62%, and in Spain 59%. The burqa debate is criticised on the Left in France as a convenient cover issue for anti-immigration groups and there is no doubt that EU-wide concerns are growing over the impact of un-assimilated immigrants who actively resist integration. The US-based Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, part of the Pew Research Center, said in an earlier report: “The EU countries possess deep historical, cultural, religious and linguistic traditions. Injecting hundreds of thousands, and in some cases millions, of people who look, speak and act differently into these settings often makes for a difficult social fit.”
The bill must now go to the Senate after the summer recess, where it expects a smooth passage. However it could be overturned by the Constitutional Council, France’s highest legal body or face a challenge at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg where rulings are binding.
France has more than 7 million Muslims one of the largest populations in Europe and the legislation is clearly designed to give a lead in Europe where the EU has shied away from any coordinated policy measures. European Commissioner for Internal Affairs Cecilia Malmström said June 28 the EU does not intend to legislate to regulate the use of the burqa in public places because the decision lies with national governments.
The Spanish government is considering a measure to restrict the use of veil type burqas in public places, Belgium is preparing to ban the full veil in all public spaces and some Italian local authorities are making moves against both the burqa and towering minarets on Mosques, seen as beacons for Islamic fundamentalism.
Meanwhile a wealthy Muslim property developer Rachid Nekkaz has pledged to sell off 1 million euros of property assets in Paris to set up a fund to meet the fines of any woman arrested once the bill becomes law.
Nekkaz, a former minority candidate in the presidential election race, told Canal-Infos that the burqa ban was unconstitutional and any woman fined for hiding her face could come to him for help. He has called his fund the “Touche pas à ma Constitution” fund in a clear allusion to the highly successful anti-racism slogan of the 80s: “Touche pas à mon pote”
UPDATE: Debate on burqa bans is set to become heated across the EU. Here as a starter is an opposing view from a Sudanese convert to the burqa.
Walter Laqueur, author of Terrorism (first published in 1977) and Guerrilla (1976) writes in Standpoint — “…there has been growing resistance to the most striking manifestations of Muslim “otherness” in various European countries such as Belgium and France. This refers to mosques and minarets in Switzerland and niqabs, hijabs and burqas in France. The ban on wearing these in public was supported by not a few Muslims but attacked by others as a restriction of the freedom of religious practice. Wearing them is not stipulated in sharia; they are sectarian inventions and are political in motivation, designed to make it clear that the wearer wants nothing to do with the culture and way of life of the others. It is a form of protest against integration.”
A “burkini” row has broken out in a French holiday resort over attempts by two burqa-wearing Muslim women to swim fully covered in a public amenity. Widely-publicised French local authority by-laws are crystal clear about what is considered proper apparel for everyone swimming in public amenities. Yet, according to London’s Daily Mail the husbands of two burkini swimmers at the Rives des Corbieres holiday camp in Port Leucate, southern France, became irate when these rules were enforced. Police had to be called to resolve the matter.
And now just because its Bastille Day … sing along with Serge Gainsbourg the second-greatest Frenchman of the 20th century:
Je suis venu te dire que je m’en vais…
Story: Ken Pottinger