FaithWorld

France’s burqa debate stokes passions in North Africa

May 14, 2010
Anne, an assumed name, a 31-year old French woman who has been fined for wearing a niqab while driving, speaks to the media during a news conference with her husband Lies Hebbadj in Nantes, western France, April 26, 2010.  REUTERS/Stephane Mahe/Files

Veiled French woman Anne (an assumed name) fined for wearing a niqab while driving in Nantes meets journalists on 26 April 2010/Stephane Mahe

A French proposal to ban full face veils has stoked debate in Europe and also provoked strong reactions across the Mediterranean in North Africa, where many of France’s Muslims trace their origins.

Former French colonies Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia are still tied to France by history, language and migration, so their views on the “burqa” issue could have a direct influence on how Muslims inside France react to a ban.

People in North Africa are split between those who see the proposed ban — a version of which has already been approved by Belgium’s lower house of parliament — as an attack on Islam, and those who applaud Europe for defending secular values.

What is shared though by at least some people on each side of the argument is a concern that talk of a ban could be exploited by unscrupulous politicians and ratchet up tension between the authorities in Europe and Muslim communities.

“I am against this form of dress … but we should not enact laws against it,” Khadija Riyadi, president of Morocco’s leading independent human rights group, AMDH, told Reuters.

Read the full story by Lamine Chikhi and Zakia Abdennebi here.

Following are quotes from academics, clerics and ordinary people in North Africa interviewed for this feature by Tarek Amara in Tunis, Tom Pfeiffer and Zakia Abdennebi in Rabat and Hamid Ould Ahmed and Lamine Chikhi in Algiers.

FATIHA MAACHI, 30, UNIVERSITY STUDENT IN ALGIERS

“I think the campaign against the burqa is part of a war that started years ago against religious symbols. Muslims should join forces and resist.”

MOHAMED HAMI, 43, TAXI DRIVER IN ALGIERS

“Banning the burqa is not the best way to get rid of the integration problem for Muslims living in the West. Implementing such a measure would threaten human rights and lead to further extremism.”

HAKIM EL-GHISSASSI, MOROCCAN RELIGION EXPERT

“Some Moroccan newspapers have portrayed the burqa question as a case of Muslim bashing, an attempt to denigrate Islam.  They’re surfing on a wave created by some Muslim online media in France.

“The burqa is not something Moroccan. You see it but only in Salafist groups. It’s very rare… And there have never been gloves in Moroccan dress. It’s repugnant. If you have even a little good sense, you reject it.”

SAAD-EDDINE EL-OTMANI, LEADING FIGURE IN MOROCCO’S MAIN ISLAMIST OPPOSITION PARTY, THE PJD

“I do not see the burqa as a symbol of the oppression of women and this move to legislate against the burqa can only increase tension between Muslims and non-Muslims in Europe.  It will be understood as xenophobia and racism and will contribute to the marginalisation of Muslims in European
society.

“Wearing the full veil is not something that is required at a religious level.  But this is not a religious or a cultural problem. It is a reaction to conditions that are increasingly difficult in European society, of economic and social marginalization.

“We know now that with the financial crisis, some of the groups most affected by the fall-out from this crisis are Muslims of Maghreb origin. I think legislating will only exacerbate this trend towards wearing the full veil. It will not bring Muslim women to abandon it.”

MONIA AYADI, 22, STUDENT IN TUNIS

“I think this (banning the full veil) is a racist decision which shows once again that Islam has become enemy number one for the West … The most effective path in Europe’s political life now is to attack Islam … I am sure (French President Nicolas Sarkozy) is playing a political card before the next elections.”

TAREK CHLAGOU, JOURNALIST IN TUNIS

“On this issue I think that Belgium and France absolutely have the right because, for security reasons, it’s not normal that someone should be hidden and anonymous behind a niqab … It also needs to be said that there are the particular aspects of the country that need to be respected. I in no way see any discrimination against Muslims in this decision.

“None of that prevents Sarkozy from wanting to score political points.”

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