Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Parliament to debate bill to ban the burqa

Why don't Muslim men volunteer to wear the burqa for the women ~ and then the Muslim women could wear western clothes like the men do!

France's parliament debates a bill to ban the full Islamic veil Tuesday, with little opposition expected despite concerns that the text could prove unconstitutional and further marginalise the country’s Muslim minority.

A French bill to ban wearing full Islamic veils in public goes before parliament on Tuesday, where it is expected to face little opposition from the Socialist Party, despite warnings that the text could later be struck down as unconstitutional and regarded as an affront to France’s Muslim community.

The bill is the pet project of President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has said the full-face veil, which is sometimes referred to as the burqa or niqab, is “not welcome” in France. “It's not a religious symbol, but a sign of subservience and debasement,” Sarkozy declared on the subject last year in his first state of the nation address.

While France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim community, the law would apply in fact to only to about 2,000 women - according to the government’s own estimate - who wear the full head-to-feet garment in the country.

The text, drafted by Justice Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie, would make it illegal for anyone to wear an “item of clothing that hides their face” in the street or any space open to the public. An infraction could carry a 150 euro fine.

The draft bill stipulates a six-month “educational” period before sanctions will be enforced, starting in the Spring of 2011.

In addition, any person found to force a woman to don the face-covering veil could be sentenced to one year in prison and fined 30,000 euros.

Constitutional obstacle

While the French Socialist Party originally declared itself against the law months ago, it has since changed its position and will argue that the ban should be limited to public buildings and businesses, and not be enforced on the street. They have said they will abstain from the parliamentary vote, slated for July 13.

The Socialists will also remind parliament that in March, France's State Council, a top judicial authority, warned the government that a total ban of the veil in all public spaces may be deemed unconstitutional and this body has the power to veto the legislation.

The veil issue has become the focus in the ongoing, thorny debate about Islam and France’s secular system, which rigorously separates church and state. Some argue that a ban could further strain relations with Muslim communities at home and abroad.

At the opening of a Mosque near Paris in June, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon, sought to separate Islam as it is practiced in France from how it is observed by other Muslims. “You should stand in the front line against this hijacking of the religious message,” Fillon urged the audience.

But the French Muslim Council has pronounced itself against the draft bill. “We think that a general ban is absolutely not the solution,” said Council president Mohammed Moussaoui.

European clampdown

The parliamentary debate in France follows a similar move by Belgian lawmakers, who voted overwhelmingly in favour of a similar ban in April, paving the way for the first clampdown of its kind in Europe.

In June, Spain’s Senate narrowly approved a motion to ban the full Islamic veil in public places.

Amnesty International has urged European lawmakers to oppose bills outlawing the full veil, saying these texts betray the rights of Muslim women who choose to wear them and further exclude them from society.

“Amnesty International does not believe that such important values as liberty, equality and fraternity can be advanced by such a discriminatory restriction,” the organisation said in its statement to French senators.

If the lawmakers approve the draft bill, it will be sent to the Senate, the upper house of parliament, in September.

France 24

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