The French parliamentary commission studying the issue of full Muslim veils has produced its expected result — a recommendation that the National Assembly denounces these veils as contrary to French values and votes a law to ban them in public. They could not propose a full draft law because there are some doubts about whether a total ban would be constitutional. But the lawmakers made it absolutely clear they wanted to rid France of the veils — known here as “burqas” even though most are Saudi-style niqabs — and the fundamentalist Islam they said the garments represent.
Our news report here gives the main details of the story. At the news conference presenting the report, commission chairman André Gérin was his usual outspoken self, lashing out at “gurus of fundamentalism” who he said were forcing women to wear full veils and warning the veil phenomenon was only “the tip of the iceberg.” The veil hid what he called “scandalous practices of sectarianism and fundamentalism.” His deputy chairman Eric Raoult was more moderate and even defended the commission against charges it was “monomaniac” in its focus on the veil.
While the politicians said France was a welcoming country that did not want to stigmatise any group, the commission’s proposals betrayed a narrow view of veiled women and how to deal with them. The proposals defined veil wearing in the context of pressure on and violence against women. They stressed its foreign nature by suggesting tighter procedures when issuing visas, affording resident status, offering integration courses and granting citizenship through naturalisation.
But Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux himself has said that, of the 1,900 women wearing full veils in France, 2/3 are already French citizens and 1/4 of them were actually French converts to Islam. Many of the measures proposed would not really apply to them. In addition, many veiled women say in interviews that they were not forced by male relatives to cover up and decided for religious reasons to do so. One cannot assume that all veiled women wear the garment voluntarily, but assuming they are all forced to do so seems equally one-sided. But that’s the approach underlying the commission’s suggestions.