FaithWorld

France to enforce ban on full Muslim face veils from April

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(A Muslim woman at a demonstration against France's banning of full face veils from public spaces, outside the French Embassy in London, September 25, 2010/Luke MacGregor)

France will start enforcing a ban next month on full Islamic face veils, officials said on Thursday, meaning any veiled woman can be summoned to a police station and asked to remove her face-covering or pay a fine. Officials say the law is mainly symbolic and police will not call in every veiled woman they see to avoid stigmatising Muslims.

The ban forbids wearing any garment concealing the face in a public space, namely the street, public transport, shops, schools, courtrooms, hospitals and government buildings.  From April 11, police are instructed to summon veil-wearers to a station, where they will be asked to remove the garment for “identification” and leave it off. If the wearer refuses to remove it they will be fined up to 150 euros ($208).

When France passed the ban on full face veils last year, Muslim leaders voiced concern it could lead to veiled women being unfairly treated by police or singled out for harassment.  “My gut reaction is to say this is all a bit clumsy,” said Moussa Niambele, the imam of a mosque in the north of Paris. “You are stopped in public by the police and forced to follow them to the station like an undesirable person. This is altogether too much ceremony.”

France’s Muslim community of 5 million is Europe’s largest. Fewer than 3,000 women wear the face veil, the goverment says. As part of its public relations effort, the government plans to roll out a website with the URL “www.visage-decourvert.gouv.fr” (which translates as “uncovered-face.gouv.fr”) and print posters and pamphlets to be passed out in city halls.

French far-right sees boost from planned Islam debate

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(Marine Le Pen at a National Front congress in Tours January 16, 2011/Stephane Mahe)

France’s far-right National Front said on Friday that a planned national debate on Islam and secularism would boost its support and improve its chances in the presidential election next year. Party leader Marine Le Pen, who took over last month from her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, mocked the planned debate as a new opinion poll showed she could score a strong 20 percent in the first round of the presidential vote.

President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government wants the debate, due in April, to discuss whether France’s five-million-strong Muslim minority supports the official separation of church and state.

France plans nation-wide Islam and secularism debate

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(President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysee Palace in Paris, February 16, 2011/Francois Mori)

France’s governing party plans to launch a national debate on the role of Islam and respect for French secularism among Muslims here, two issues emerging as major themes for the presidential election due next year. Jean-François Copé, secretary general of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party, said the debate would examine issues such as the financing and building of mosques, the contents of Friday sermons and the education of the imams delivering them.

The announcement, coming after a meeting of UMP legislators with Sarkozy on Wednesday, follows the president’s declaration last week that multiculturalism had failed in France. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron have made similar statements in recent months that were also seen as aimed at Muslim minorities there. France’s five-million strong Muslim minority is Europe’s largest.

France to renew tight bioethics limits, critics hit Catholic lobbying

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(An in-vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure in Warsaw, October 26, 2010/Kacper Pempel )

France’s parliament opened debate on revising its bioethics laws on Tuesday amid protests that Roman Catholic Church lobbying had thwarted plans to ease the existing curbs on embryonic stem cell research. The bill, originally meant to update a 2004 law in light of rapid advances in the science of procreation, would also uphold bans on surrogate motherhood and assisted procreation for gays.

The debate coincided with news of France’s first “saviour sibling,” a designer baby conceived in vitro to provide stem cells to treat a sibling suffering from a severe blood disorder.

Italy blocks EU religious persecution text ignoring Christians

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(Christians protest against what they say is the failure of authorities to protect them, in Cairo January 3, 2011/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)

The European Union failed to agree on a statement against the persecution of religious minorities on Monday after Italy objected to the omission of any reference to the protection of Christians. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said a draft proposed at a meeting of EU foreign ministers expressing concern about increasing numbers of attacks on places of worship and pilgrims showed an “excess of secularism”.

“The final text didn’t include any mention of Christians, as if we were talking of something else, so I asked the text to be withdrawn, so in fact it has been withdrawn,” he told reporters.

Top French court rejects gay marriage appeal

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France’s ban on same-sex marriages was upheld by the country’s constitutional authority on Friday, in a ruling that relieves the government of any obligation to grant gays the wedding rights enjoyed by heterosexuals.

A handful of countries in Europe allow couples of the same sex to wed, and rights campaigners had hoped for a breakthrough in France, where two women living together had demanded the view of the Constitutional Council.

The Council said it found no conflict between the law as it stands and fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution. It ruled that it was up to parliament, rather than the constitutional authorities, to decide whether the law should change.

Will Pew Muslim birth rate study finally silence the “Eurabia” claim?

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(Photo: Muslims who could not fit into a small Paris mosque pray in the street, a practice the French far-right has compared to the Nazi occupation, December 17, 2010/Charles Platiau)

One of the most wrong-headed arguments in the debate about Muslims in Europe is the shrill “Eurabia” claim that high birth rates and immigration will make Muslims the majority on the continent within a few decades. Based on sleight-of-hand statistics, this scaremongering (as The Economist called it back in 2006) paints a picture of a triumphant Islam dominating a Europe that has lost its Christian roots and is blind to its looming cultural demise.

The Egyptian-born British writer Bat Ye’or popularised the term with her 2005 book “Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis” and this argument has become the background music to much exaggerated talk about Muslims in Europe. Some examples from recent weeks can be found here, here and here.

French nun says Pope John Paul gave her ‘second birth’

nun (Photo: Sister Marie Simon-Pierre poses in front of a picture of former pope John Paul II after a news conference in Aix en Provence, January 17, 2011/Jean-Paul Pelissier)

The French Catholic nun who credits the late Pope John Paul with curing her of Parkinson’s disease said on Monday her sudden recovery came just as she was about to quit working because of her ailment.

Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, 49, said she woke up in June 2005, two months after the Polish-born pope had died, suddenly cured of the disease she had suffered from for four years.

“When I woke up, I felt I was not the same,” Sister Marie told a news conference at the bishop’s office in this southern French city. “There was no more heaviness in my muscles, I could move normally. For me it was a new birth, a second birth.”

In France, far right seizes on Muslim street prayers

paris street prayers (Photo: Muslims pray in the street during Friday prayers near an overcrowded mosque in the Rue des Poissoniers  in Paris on December 17, 2010/Charles Platiau)

A call to prayer goes up from a loudspeaker perched on the hood of a car, and all at once hundreds of Muslim worshippers touch their foreheads to the ground, forming a sea of backs down the road. The scene is taking place not in downtown Cairo, but on a busy market street in northern Paris, a short walk from the Sacre Coeur basilica. To locals, it’s old news: some have been praying on the street, rain or shine, for decades.

But for Marine Le Pen — tipped to take over from her father this weekend as leader of the far-right National Front party — it is proof that Muslims are taking over France and becoming an occupying force, according to remarks she made last month.

Her comments caused a furore as she seized on the street prayers to drive home the idea that Islam is threatening the values of a secular country where anxiety over the role of Muslims in society has deepened in the past few years.

European far right courts Israel in stepped-up anti-Islam drive

street prayers (Photo: Muslims pray in the street during Friday prayers near an overcrowded mosque in the Rue des Poissoniers  in Paris on December 17, 2010/Charles Platiau)

Far-right political parties in Europe are stepping up their anti-Muslim rhetoric and forging ties across borders, even going so far as to visit Israel to hail the Jewish state as a bulwark against militant Islam.

Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front has shocked the French political elite in recent days by comparing Muslims who pray outside crowded mosques — a common sight especially during the holy month of Ramadan — to the World War Two Nazi occupation. Oskar Freysinger, a champion of the Swiss ban on minarets, warned a far-right meeting in Paris on Saturday against “the demographic, sociological and psychological Islamisation of Europe”. German and Belgian activists also addressed the crowd.

street prayers 2 (Photo: Muslims pray in the street during Friday prayers near the Et-Taqwa Mosque in Paris on December 17, 2010. REUTERS/Charles Platiau)

Geert Wilders, whose populist far-right party supports the Dutch minority government, told Reuters last week he was organising an “international freedom alliance” to link grass-roots groups active in “the fight against Islam”. Earlier this month, Wilders visited Israel and backed its West Bank settlements, saying Palestinians there should move to Jordan. Like-minded German, Austrian, Belgian, Swedish and other far-rightists were on their own Israel tour at the same time. “Our culture is based on Christianity, Judaism and humanism and (the Israelis) are fighting our fight,” Wilders said. “If Jerusalem falls, Amsterdam and New York will be next.”