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)

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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.

sarkoPresident Nicolas Sarkozy has been raising the volume as well. “France is a country that has no place for the burqa or the subjugation of women — not under any pretext, any condition or any circumstance,” he declared on Thursday in a speech about France’s national identity. But he also didn’t say how France would translate this into practice. (Photo: President Sarkozy, 12 Nov 2009/Philippe Desmazes)

Sarkozy gave no further details because Gerin’s panel, which meets weekly and is due to issue a report in early January, has the task of scouting out the next step. The National Assembly should then follow up with a law based on the report. That’s the way it worked back in 2004 after a similar panel led by parliamentarian Bernard Stasi ended up with a proposal that included a law banning headscarvesin state schools.