Friday, December 18, 2009

France to ban full face veil

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's party, the UMP, says it will push for a law banning the burqa, the full-face Islamic veil, according to its parliamentary leader Jean-François Copé.

"The issue is not how many women wear the burqa," Copé wrote in an article in the right-wing newspaper Le Figaro. "There are principles at stake: extremists are putting the republic to the test by promoting a practice that they know is contrary to the basic principles of our country.”

He said the legislation will be enacted after consultation with Muslim communities "so that this measure is understood for what it is: a law of liberation and not a ban".

Three ministers were to testify before a parliamentary panel debating the ban on Wednesday.

Home to Europe's largest Muslim minority, France set up the panel of 32 lawmakers six months ago. It will report next month after hearing the views of Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux, Immigration Minister Eric Besson and Education Minister Xavier Darcos.

Despite an intelligence service report that fewer than 400 women in France wear the full veil, an Interior Ministry study has put the figure at a few thousand.

This proposed ban comes as pressure mounts on Sarkozy to scrap his debate on national identity. The government last month invited citizens from across the country to discuss what it means to be French on the internet and at town halls across the country.

On Monday when Families Minister Nadine Morano told a meeting in the provinces that she wanted young Muslims to "love France, find a job, stop wearing their caps back to front – and to stop speaking verlan” - a popular form of slang in which words are inverted.

The remark has caused a storm of protest, while Pierre Merle, author of Argot, Verlan et Tchatches told the Direct Matin free paper that the slang is used by all young people, not just those of immigrant origin.

"Enough!" said former Socialist leader Francois Hollande. "This debate was badly defined, poorly chosen from the start, and now it is going to the dogs."

Cracks also emerged within Sarkozy's camp, with Higher Education Minister Valérie Pécresse saying there was a need to "shift the focus toward concrete proposals" to prevent the debate from further spinning out of control.

Morano on Wednesday defended her remarks, claiming those who criticised her "did not want to open their eyes to the integration problems that our young people in the suburbs are having".

Her critics are "Champagne socialists who have never set foot in those areas", she claimed

The debate is scheduled to end with a national conference on 4 February.


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