French MPs seek resolution denouncing Muslim veil, with ban to follow
France’s parliament is likely to call in a resolution for a ban on Muslim face veils in public but take longer to turn that policy into law, deputies said on Thursday. A parliamentary commission studying the sensitive issue, which has been discussed alongside a wider public debate about French national identity launched by President Nicolas Sarkozy, is due to publish its recommendations next Tuesday.
Polls say most voters want a legal ban on full-length face veils, known here by the Afghan term burqa although the few worn in France are Middle Eastern niqabs showing the eyes. Critics say a law would stigmatise Muslims and be unenforceable.
Jean-Francois Copé, parliamentary floor leader for Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party, told France Inter radio said the plan was for “a resolution to explain and then a law to decide.” André Gérin, head of the commission, agreed that deputies needed more time to draft a law, but told the daily Le Figaro: “The ban on the full facial veil will be absolute.”
A parliamentary resolution would not be legally binding, but it seems to be the most that can be done before France’s regional elections in March. Sarkozy’s critics accuse him of launching the national identity debate — which some Muslims here say has turned into a debate on Islam and immigration — to rally conservative voters to his UMP party before that poll.
Read my full report here. Since that ran on the Reuters wire, the daily La Croix reported that the parliamentary commission had fallen apart in dispute, with Socialist members boycotting its last meeting on Wednesday. It has posted what it says is a partial text of the commission’s report (here in French) which is due out on Tuesday. The whole issue has been a political football and conservative parliamentarians have competed with each other to make ever tougher proposals.
Copé, for example, didn’t even wait for the commission’s report before announcing he would introduce a bill proposing a total ban on full facial veils in public. His announcement came just before an opinion survey said 74 percent of French voters favoured such a law. Upping the ante, UMP spokesman Frederic Lefebvre even suggested cutting off child benefit payments to veiled women.
Here’s a Reuters video report on the debate including comments by the immigration minister and a visit to the home of Aya Touati, a French convert to Islam who now wears a full black Muslim veil and robe says a ban would force her to stay at home.
Here’s an earlier video with Copé explaining in English why he wants to ban the full facial veil.