French foreign minister gets ready for criticism over planned burqa ban

May 2, 2010

(French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on Europe 1 radio, 2 May 2010/Dailymotion)

France hasn’t even presented its draft bill to outlaw Muslim face veils yet — in contrast to Belgium, which has started voting on its ban — but Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner is already preparing for the wave of criticism from abroad it will provoke. He told Europe 1 radio on Sunday that he’d already warned the government at a cabinet meeting about what to expect.

“The United States are very attached to religious liberty and there will be lots of NGOs and American foundations that will want to point out our mistake,” he said (in the video above in French). “I think they’ll also be convinced that we are for religious liberty but there is no religious recommendation to veil one’s face.

“There will certainly also be European countries that will protest, like Denmark, the Netherlands, etc. that will say what about religious liberty, we’ve already tackled this problem.

“There will be some Muslim countries, and in some Muslim countries — for example in Pakistan and Turkey — we’ll be criticised.  There are also countries that condemn to death apostates, people who leave their religion — they’ll protest.  And then there’s a last country, Saudi Arabia, that will say ‘in your country, you have the right to do what you like, but in my country I also have the right to do what I want, for example not let women drive.”

By contrast, he said, “Morocco will understand, it understands already, because it’s an advanced country where Islam is not oppressive.”

Kouchner said 80% of French Muslims were against the wearing of burqas and niqabs: “Apart from the newly converted, who are not of Muslim origin but of French origin, you’ll find very few women who are against this law. ” French Muslims, he said, “understand and I think they’re somehow relieved … in any case, the women are.

“One can’t advocate equality and serve the cause of women, as I have, and see them locked up in a cloth prison. This is not a religious issue. It’s an issue of dignity, of solidarity and of understanding of the way the world is moving.”

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