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Belgian committee backs banning Islamic face veil in public

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Muslim women protest against a ban on headscarves in some schools, 4 Feb 2004/Yves Herman

A Belgian parliamentary committee voted Wednesday to ban the full Islamic face veil, a move that, if ratified, could make Belgium the first country to enforce such a ban.

The lower house of parliament will vote on the bill on April 22 and it could enter into law in June or July.

Some lawmakers in France, which has the largest Muslim population in Europe, have called for full Islamic veils to be banned, although a top advisory board said Tuesday that this would carry serious constitutional risks. france veil

Niqab-wearing French woman protests against ban on headscarves 17 Jan 2004/stringer

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

GUESTVIEW: Are Catholics masochists?

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Notre Dame de Fourvière Basilica, Lyon/Frédéric de La Mure

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Isabelle de Gaulmyn is Religion Editor of the Paris Catholic daily newspaper La Croix and author of Benoît XVI, Le pape incompris (Benedict XVI, The Misunderstood Pope). She blogs in French at Une foi par semaine, where this first appeared.

Are Catholics masochists? After all that’s been happening these days, this looks like the question to ask. There were probably more than 3 million Catholics in France who went to church to celebrate Palm Sunday today. And during this Holy Week, millions more will to prepare for Easter. If the news we hear is anything to go by, these Catholics must be either mad or masochistic.

la croix uneWhy not take advantage of this Sunday to go fishing or play tennis rather than frequent a place full of pedophile priests and leaders who lie  and hush up the truth? How can there still be people in the pews, on pilgrimages, in monasteries or volunteering in one of many charities?

Ultra-trad Catholics upset rabbi’s lecture in Paris cathedral

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Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, 6 Aug 2009/Jacky Naegelen

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris witnessed a scene on Sunday afternoon that seemed to be from a bygone age. A rabbi invited to deliver a lecture about Catholic-Jewish dialogue was interrupted by young arch-traditionalist Catholics who began to pray the rosary to make “amends for the outrage” of letting him speak there. Rabbi Rivon Krygier had to leave the nave and retire to the sacristy, where he read his text into a microphone to broadcast it to about 1,200 people who came to hear him. Read our full story here.

Rabbi Krygier, the head of a small Conservative Jewish congregation in Paris, had the grace to recognise that his hecklers were a tiny minority. “They’ll say they succeeded in banishing the rabbi to the sacristy,” he told the Catholic daily La Croix“This is an act that has to be taken seriously, but the Christians active in dialogue seem much more determined to continue on this path.” krygier

Rabbi Rivon Krygier/Adath Shalom

The warm round of applause that Krygier received when he returned to the nave after the lecture bore that out. At the same time, arch-traditionalists such as Rev. Régis de Cacqueray, head of the French section of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) congratulated protesters for their “courage” and said: “The Paris cathedral is neither a synagogue nor a Masonic temple.”

“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.

French mosque reopens after protest disruptions

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Drancy on a map of greater Paris

A French mosque, whose imam says he has received death threats over his promotion of dialogue with Jews, reopened for Friday prayers after it was forced to close down this week due to disruptive protests.  The mosque in Drancy, a suburb to the north of Paris, has been the focus of tension for weeks with a small group of protesters keeping up a noisy barrage of criticism against the imam Hassen Chalghoumi.

“We’ve been facing really enormous pressure for five or six weeks now,” Chalghoumi told reporters before Friday prayers. “We want peace, we want calm. These people aren’t welcome here.”

As Chalghoumi spoke, a group of around 30 protesters from a group named after Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder of  the Palestinian Hamas movement, gathered outside the fence of the mosque, facing off with fluorescent-vested security staff preventing them from entering.

Hubbub over halal in France

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A Quick fast food restaurant in Roubaix, 18 Feb 2010/Pascal Rossignol

After the noise over the niqab, now there’s a hubbub over halal in France.

Police in the northern city of Lille launched an investigation on Friday into claims that a fast food restaurant was discriminating against non-Muslim customers by dropping bacon burgers from its menu and using only halal meat. The public prosecutor ordered the probe after the Socialist mayor of the nearby town of Roubaix sued the Quick fast food chain for switching to follow Muslim dietary laws in eight of its 350 branches.

Quick — a rival to far larger global chains like McDonald’s in France and Belgium — now offers smoked turkey and halal beef and no pork in those branches.  “Why should the people of Roubaix be forced to go to Lille or elsewhere to find bacon?” Franck Berton, the lawyer for Mayor René Vandierendonck, asked when we asked him about this case.

France creates paper trail in campaign against Muslim veils

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--- A fully veiled woman walks past the city hall in Ronchin, northern France, 9 Aug 2009/Farid Alouache ---

France is building up an interesting paper trail in its campaign to ban full-face Muslim veils. The latest twist in this story is that Immigration Minister Eric Besson has denied citizenship to a foreign man said to have imposed the wearing of a full-face veil on his wife, a French citizen. “He was depriving her of her liberty to come and go with her face uncovered and rejected the principles of secularism and equality between men and women,” he said in a statement on Tuesday. On Wednesday morning, Prime Minister François Fillon said he would sign a decree Besson had drafted to make this kind of constraint an obstacle to naturalisation.

This is not the first piece of paper on this trail. A veiled Moroccan woman was denied citizenship in 2008, a decision the State Council upheld on appeal. That occurred before the “ban the burqa” activism that led to the parliamentary commission that recommended last month France explicitly outlaw the full veil. The argument in the 2008 case was not about the veil itself, for example as a security risk because the person cannot be easily identified, but about a “radical religious practice that is incompatible with the essential values of the French community.”

Italy moves towards emulating France on burqa ban

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Equal Opportunities Minister Mara Carfagna in the Senate in Rome, 15 May 2008/Max Rossi

Italy may soon seek a ban on full-face Muslim veils, drawing on debate in France where President Nicolas Sarkozy has described the burqa as unwelcome and legislators are considering a vote to outlaw or restrict it. Equal Opportunities Minister Mara Carfagna has said the Italian government will quickly follow in France’s footsteps, breathing new life into four draft bills on burqas already circulating in parliamentary committees.

“I completely agree with the French initiative, which I think will push other European countries and hence, also Italy, to enact laws on this issue,” Carfagna said this week.  “This is about a sacrosanct battle to defend the dignity and rights of immigrant women. A law is being studied that would ban the use of a burqa and niqab, which are not religious symbols — that’s not us saying it, but the top religious authorities of the Islamic world, like the imams of Cairo and Paris.”

Discussing the veil ban on France24, BBC World TV

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!

France24‘s site has no “share” option so click on the images to open the France24 page and watch the videos.

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