Being an English-speaking religion editor in Paris these days means being invited to try to explain the story to foreign audiences. Here are videos from BBC World Television today, after a parliamentary report on face veils was issued, and from a France24 television debate broadcast last Thursday but only just posted on its website yesterday. Apart from explaining my analysis of the issue, both show why I didn’t go into television!
The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Asghar Ali Engineer, a leading Indian Muslim intellectual and activist, is head of the Centre for the Study of Society and Secularism in Mumbai, where he works to promote peace and understanding among religious and ethnic communities.
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.
The leader of Switzerland’s centrist Christian Democrats (CVP) has apologised for calling for a ban on new Muslim and Jewish cemeteries, just days after Swiss voters approved a halt to building minarets.
French Communist parliamentarian André Gerin, a leading proponent of a ban on full facial veils here, is an old hand at avoiding answering unwelcome questions. One that has become increasingly difficult for him is whether France should prohibit Muslim women here from wearing the veils, known as burqas and niqabs, as a way to combat Islamic fundamentalism. He got a real grilling about this on Europe 1 radio today. After ducking the persistent question “will you propose a legal ban?” several times, he finally admitted that, well … uh … there wouldn’t be a ban after all. There would be “recommendations” that could be supported by Muslim leaders here, i.e. would not include the ban they oppose.
Remember all the talk about France banning the burqa and niqab Muslim veils for women a few months ago? That project is now in the parliamentary inquiry phase, a six-month fact-finding mission expected to wind up late this year and produce a draft bill to outlaw them. That’s the way France handled it in 2003 when it wanted to stop Muslim girls from wearing headscarves to state schools. But the process seems more complex this time around. There’s less passion and more hesitation in the debate. A smooth progression from the inquiry to the ban and to its implementation no longer looks assured.
When French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared last month that the burqa was not welcome in France, he unleashed a global debate on Islam and veils that drew in everyone from bloggers and full-time pundits to Al Qaeda’s North African wing. FaithWorld has dealt with it when Sarkozy spoke, in the aftermath of that speech, with a view from Afghanistan and a televised debate with a National Assembly deputy backing the ban.