FaithWorld

France’s “burqa ban” and the “Sarkozy shuffle” to shape it

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The French National Assembly in Paris, 13 March 2000/Frédéric de La Mure

Efforts by French politicians to “ban the burqa” hit the wall of constitutional reality today when the Council of State, France’s top administrative court, said there was no legal way Paris could completely outlaw full Islamic veils in public. The issue has been at the centre of complex and sometimes heated debate in France in recent months, but it wasn’t clear until now how far French and European law would allow the state to go. We still don’t know exactly what the law will look like, but the back story to today’s report is a tale in itself.

Sarkozy launched the veil debate last year in a replay of an earlier campaign strategy to capture votes from the anti-foreigner National Front by veering to the right. Regional elections were coming up this March and his right-wing UMP party hoped to win control of more than the 2 regions it governed out of the 22 regions in metropolitan France.   In the end, they lost one of them in an embarrassing election wipeout that saw a strong showing for the National Front. So, shortly after that slap in the face, Sarkozy toughened up his stand a bit more. Among the measures he promised was a law banning the full Islamic facial veil. sarkozy 1

President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysee Palace in Paris, 24 March 2010/Benoit Tessier

“The full veil is contrary to the dignity of women,” Sarkozy said. “The response is to ban it. The Government will put forward a draft law prohibiting it.” He gave no details, though, because he was waiting for the Council of State’s opinion. The Council has now warned the government that it cannot take some of the giant steps the politicians want, and spelled out some precisely defined measures that should be constitutional.

There’s an interesting wrinkle in this procedure that could be called the “Sarkozy shuffle”. The Council of State usually rules on the legal conformity of new laws after they have been passed. Asking its advice in advance is an unusual step, which the government took to avoid the embarrassment of passing a stern law amid protests from French Muslims and other groups and then seeing it rejected by the top administrative court. Some politicians have been so vocal in demanding that facial veils be fully outlawed that legislators could well have gone too far in formulating the ban.  So Sarkozy and his government promoted a sometimes raucous debate about national identity and banning Islamic veils, while consulting the Council of State in advance to make sure any law was kept within bounds.

Iraq’s Arab neighbours wary of Shi’ite sway after vote

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Shi'ites mark the religious ceremony of Arbain at Imam Abbas shrine in Kerbala, 5 Feb 2010/Mushtaq Muhammed

Iraq’s Arab neighbours fear a split Iraqi election could further marginalise minority Sunnis and hope any coalition government formed by the Shi’ite frontrunner will resist Iran’s sway. Many Sunni Arabs had wanted a stronger showing by secularists, who they now hope will bring cross-sectarian balance to any coalition government that could be formed by Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

“These election results show that there is a Shi’ite wave in the region which threatens Arab security in the region. Iran has a hidden role in the Arab region and it supports Shi’ite elements in the area, particularly in Iraq,” said Magid Mazloum from the Centre for Gulf Studies in Cairo.

“No to Islamism” campaign boosts France’s National Front in poll

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Jean-Marie Le Pen at a rally in Marseille on March 7, 2010. The placard reads "No to Islamism. Youth with Le Pen" and shows a map of France covered by an Algerian flag and minarets/Jean-Paul Pelissier

Far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, playing on fears over the spread of Islam, has regained the political initiative in France with a strong result in regional elections that poses a problem for President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Bouncing back from a string of recent reversals, Le Pen’s National Front won a surprise 11.74 percent of the national vote in Sunday’s first round ballot and will dilute support for Sarkozy’s conservative block in crucial run-offs on March 21. Aged 81, Le Pen himself enjoyed a remarkable personal triumph, winning 20.29 percent backing in the southern French Provence-Cote d’Azur region, which has absorbed hundreds of thousands of mainly North African immigrants in recent decades.

Dutch concerns over Islam, globalisation drive Wilders’ support

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Geert Wilders,5 March 2010/Suzanne Plunkett

After scoring gains in local elections, Dutch anti-immigration politician Geert Wilders is now primed to make waves in a national poll in June by tapping into discontent over Islam and globalisation.

In the first test of public opinion since the collapse of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende’s coalition government last month, Wilders’ Freedom Party (PVV) became the largest party in the city of Almere and came second in The Hague on Wednesday.

Drawing strength from a savvy public relations machine and a populist anti-immigration stance that plays well with part of the electorate, Wilders also represents a vote against the political elite, political experts say.  “He thrives on discontent in society and multiculturalism and he has targeted Islam,” said Nico Landman, an associate professor in Islamic studies at Utrecht University.

French MPs seek resolution denouncing Muslim veil, with ban to follow

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Women in niqabs in Marseille, 24 Dec 2009/Jean-Paul Pelissier

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.”

Hope for new Vatican coins without the tourist markup

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Coin collectors eager to get some Vatican euros without the tourist markup may soon be able to thank Brussels for nudging the Holy See to issue some of its money as real money. Nearly all of the euro coins minted every year with the image of Pope Benedict are sold to collectors. They go at the Vatican souvenir shop for 30 euros a set, which is already a tidy markup from their 3.88 euro face value. What’s worse, they can be hard to find, which means many end up on a secondary market where the sets go for multiples of their original sale price. Here’s one on sale on the Internet for 89 euros, another for 99 euros. Prices are probably higher in coin shops.

The European Commission took up this issue last July when it asked the European Central Bank (ECB) for advice on renegotiating the monetary agreement the EU has with the Vatican City State allowing it to use the European currency.  Before the euro was introduced, the world’s smallest state issued its own lira similar to the Italian lira. The Vatican has the right to issue 1,074, 000 euros in coins per year. But, as the Commission noted, it “issues virtually all its circulation coins in collectors’ sets (in the euro area less than 1% of the coins are sold above face value in coin sets).”

eurojp2Ëuro circulation coins are primarily a payment instrument: they should circulate freely in the market and be used for payments. Circulation coins absorbed by coin collectors do not serve their original purpose but are exclusively used as collectors’ items,” it noted.

Lottery system to chose next Serbian Orthodox patriarch

pavel-funeral (Photo: Prelates pay respects to Patriarch Pavel, 15 Nov 2009/Ivan Milutinovic)

If U.S. voters elected their president in the same way the Serbian Orthodox Church chooses it patriarch, they could have seen Ralph Nader, Ross Perot or other third place finishers taking up residence in the White House. That’s because the Church, in a move originally aimed at thwarting Communist authorities, uses a system that incorporates a lottery within the election by church elders to choose a leader.

The Holy Synod of Bishops, the Church’s top executive body, will use that system within the next three months to elect a successor to Patriarch Pavle, who died on Sunday. Pavle headed the Serbian Orthodox Church during the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s as Serbs warred with neighbours of other faiths.

pavlePavle, 95, died at Belgrade’s Military Hospital where he had been treated since 2007 for various ailments. As his health deteriorated, although nominally still head of the church until death, Pavle had given up its day-to-day running in 2008 to Bishop Amfilohije, who is seen as a Serb nationalist on issues such as Kosovo.

France retreats from burqa ban plan amid burst of hot air

gerinFrench 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. (Photo: André Gerin supports striking firemen, 4 Feb 1999/Robert Pratta)

If you speak French, have a listen here.  Click here for our news story.

It looks like anything else said about this topic from here on in is simply hot air — and Gerin generated a lot of that, too. He first tried to brush off the Europe 1 questioner by responding that nobody appearing before the parliamentary inquiry he heads has spoken up for these head-to-toe coverings. Fine, but that’s not an answer. Behind this fashion of “walking coffins” was “a fundamentalist drift” he was determined to combat, he went on. The goal, he added with rising rhetorical stakes, was to launch “a great public action against the stranglehold Islamic fundamentalism has in certain areas of our country, especially over women.” The National Assembly should pass “a law of liberation (of women),” he declared. But it would only contain  “recommendations” that he didn’t elaborate on.

German Muslims feel neglected in general election campaign

markazMany of Germany’s 4 million Muslims feel forgotten and ill-inclined to vote in the Sept. 27 general election, and even politicians acknowledge they have woken up too late to their ballot box potential. In Duisburg in the industrial Ruhr region that is home to Germany’s biggest mosque, conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel and Social Democrat (SPD) challenger Frank-Walter Steinmeier stir little interest, still less political passion.

“I haven’t got a job, nor have my mates. Politicians don’t care,” said Ismet Akgul, 19, standing with friends outside an amusement arcade in the Marxloh suburb where about 60 percent of the population has immigrant, in most cases Turkish, roots. “Firms see a foreign name on an application form and chuck it in the bin.” (Photo: Merkez mosque in Duisburg, 26 Oct 2008/Ina Fassbender)

Of the roughly 2.8 million people in Germany with Turkish roots, only about 600,000 can vote, many failing to register or acquire citizenship. Only five lawmakers out of 614 in the Bundestag (lower house of parliament)  have Turkish origins.

Muslim Americans encouraged, hopeful with Obama at the helm

alqaisiIraqi Americans Wasan Alqaisi and Sumer Majid made a Fourth of July family picnic of kebab — served on hamburger buns with slices of American cheese.

Celebrating Independence Day in Washington D.C., the two Muslim women were doing what generations of Americans have done before them: blending their faith and lifestyle with a U.S. national identity.

Eight years after Middle East militants carried out the September 11 attacks, Muslim Americans are raising their profile, encouraged by the election of Barack Obama, a U.S. president proud of his Kenyan father’s Muslim heritage.