FaithWorld

French PM urges Muslims to reject “hijacked Islam”

fillonPrime Minister François Fillon has urged France’s Muslims to reject full face veils as a sectarian caricature of Islam, a week before parliament debates a law banning burqas and niqabs in public.

Inaugurating a mosque in a northwestern Paris suburb, he said French Muslims should combat a tiny radical minority using face veils as a way to combat the integration of a tolerant Islam that respects the separation of church and state. (Photo: Prime Minister François Fillon at podium inaugurating the Al Ihsan mosque, 28 June 2010/Benoit Tessier)

“The Islam of France, the Islam you practice daily, has nothing to do with this caricature that dims the lights of your faith,” Fillon, the most senior French politician to inaugurate a mosque in decades, said to applause from the crowd. “You should stand in the front line against this hijacking of the religious message … it’s up to you to make intelligence triumph over obscurantism and tolerance over intolerance.”

As Fillon spoke, a woman in the western city of Nantes was on trial for driving while wearing a niqab. Police had fined her for wearing a garment that blocked her lateral vision, and the case went to court when she and her husband challenged it.

Her lawyer accused the police of racial profiling and said no law barred drivers from wearing niqabs with only a slit open for the eyes. “The niqab is no worse than the helmet worn by Formula 1 drivers who spin around the circuits at 320 km/h and yet who can still look in their rearview mirrors,” he said.

Spanish town council bans Muslim veils in public buildings

Lleida

Lleida, 18 August 2006/Hector Blanco

A Spanish town council has voted to ban the wearing of the face-covering Muslim veil in public buildings, the first authority in the predominantly Catholic country to do so.

The Catalan council of Lleida approved a law prohibiting the use of full veils such as the Afghan burqa or the niqab, which leave only the eyes visible, according to a release on its website (here in Catalan).

The French cabinet approved a bill this month to outlaw the wearing of niqabs and burqas in public, and Belgium’s lower house voted in favour of prohibiting the full veil last month, provoking strong reactions and stoking debate across Europe.

Sarkozy says Muslims should not feel singled out by full veil ban

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A veiled woman in Nantes, western France, on April 26, 2010/Stephane Mahe

France attempted the arguably impossible on Wednesday by presenting a bill to ban Muslim face veils and asking Muslims not to feel it was singling them out in the process.

President Nicolas Sarkozy made a brave effort of it at the cabinet meeting that approved the government’s draft “burqa ban” that we reported on here.  Justice Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie, who Sarkozy’s UMP party always seems to call on when things get tough, did her best in an interview (here in French) that got the part about Mecca wrong. There will be more of this in the months ahead as the bill moves through the National Assembly and Senate.

It’s hard not to single out Muslims when they’re the only ones who wear full face veils. The bill avoids mentioning them as such, saying only that the ban applies to “concealment of the face in public. But nobody’s fooled, a fact Sarkozy acknowledged in his comments to the cabinet: “This is a decision one doesn’t take lightly. It’s a serious decision because nobody should feel hurt or stigmatised. I’m thinking in particular of our Muslim compatriots, who have their place in the republic and should feel respected. Laïcité means respect for all beliefs, for all religions.

France’s burqa debate stokes passions in North Africa

Anne, an assumed name, a 31-year old French woman who has been fined for wearing a niqab while driving, speaks to the media during a news conference with her husband Lies Hebbadj in Nantes, western France, April 26, 2010.  REUTERS/Stephane Mahe/Files

Veiled French woman Anne (an assumed name) fined for wearing a niqab while driving in Nantes meets journalists on 26 April 2010/Stephane Mahe

A French proposal to ban full face veils has stoked debate in Europe and also provoked strong reactions across the Mediterranean in North Africa, where many of France’s Muslims trace their origins.

Former French colonies Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia are still tied to France by history, language and migration, so their views on the “burqa” issue could have a direct influence on how Muslims inside France react to a ban.

Tearing away the veil — French lawmaker explains burqa ban

cope Jean-François Copé on September 5, 2009/Olivier Pon

One of the most frequent questions I get from readers outside of France is how politicians here can justify banning Muslim face veils in public places. Isn’t this a blatant violation of the freedom of religion?  Why isn’t this seen as such an obvious case of discrimination that legislators reject the idea outright?

Jean-François Copé, the majority leader in the French National Assembly, is one of the most outspoken champions of a complete ban on niqabs and burqas in all public spaces in France. An ambitious politician who political junkies here suspect has presidential pretensions, Copé continued campaigning for a ban even after legal experts said it could be unconstitutional. He eventually won out, however, when President Nicolas Sarkozy backed a full ban. The French cabinet plans to review the draft bill on May 19 and then send it to the National Assembly for debate.

Copé has published an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times — Tearing Away the Veil — that clearly explains his position on a veil ban. The column, written for non-French readers, is stripped of some of the political rhetoric that obfuscates the issue here. I recommend it to readers still trying to figure out what France is doing and why.

French foreign minister gets ready for criticism over planned burqa ban


(French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on Europe 1 radio, 2 May 2010/Dailymotion)

France hasn’t even presented its draft bill to outlaw Muslim face veils yet — in contrast to Belgium, which has started voting on its ban — but Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner is already preparing for the wave of criticism from abroad it will provoke. He told Europe 1 radio on Sunday that he’d already warned the government at a cabinet meeting about what to expect.

“The United States are very attached to religious liberty and there will be lots of NGOs and American foundations that will want to point out our mistake,” he said (in the video above in French). “I think they’ll also be convinced that we are for religious liberty but there is no religious recommendation to veil one’s face.

Belgian vote on Muslim veils could echo in Europe

belgium niqab

Salma, a 22-year-old French woman living in Belgium who chose to wear the niqab after converting to Islam, speaks to Reuters television outside the Belgian Parliament in Brussels April 26, 2010/Yves Herman

Belgium’s vote to ban full face veils in public is the furthest any European country has gone to confront a tiny minority whose choice in clothing has come to symbolise the issue of integrating some Muslim minorities.

The issue is being debated elsewhere in Europe, especially in France, and the example of two countries moving towards a ban has raised the stakes in a dispute pitting politicians and public opinion against Muslim leaders and human rights groups.

French Muslim rejects polygamist charge, says has wife and 3 lovers

Lies Hebbadj

Liès Hebbadj and his wife Anne after she was fined for wearing a niqab while driving, in Nantes on April 26, 2010/Stephane Mahe

France’s debate about Muslim face veils has taken an ironic twist. An Algerian-born Muslim man who is a naturalised French citizen has fought back against charges of polygamy by saying he doesn’t have four wives, but one wife and three mistresses (and 12 children among them). What could be more French than that? he asked journalists on Monday as politicians debated how they could strip him of his citizenship.

“If one can be stripped of one’s French nationality for having mistresses, then many French could lose theirs,” Liès Hebbadj, a halal butcher in the western city of Nantes, said after visiting the lawyer for his wife, who was fined for driving while wearing a full facial veil.

French driver fined for wearing niqab, most French want a ban

niqab anne 2

(Anne, an assumed name, a 31-year old French woman who has been fined for wearing a niqab while driving, at a news conference in Nantes, April 23, 2010/Stephane Mahe)

A 31-year-old French woman has been fined for wearing a niqab while driving, a further sign of France’s bid to clamp down on the face-covering Islamic veil which President Nicolas Sarkozy says demeans women. The unnamed woman told LCI television that police stopped her last month while she was driving in Nantes, near the French Atlantic coast.

She was wearing a black niqab, that covers the face but leaves the eyes exposed. Police handed her a 22-euro ($29) fine, saying her clothing posed a “safety risk” to her driving. “My eyes were not covered. I can see just like you and my field of vision was not obstructed,” said the woman, who did not give her name. She said she would appeal against the decision.

Belgian government collapse delays burqa ban vote

A woman wearing a niqab walks on a street in Saint-Denis, near Paris, April 2, 2010/Regis Duvignau

The collapse of Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme’s five-month-old government coalition on Thursday meant that a ban on full Muslim facial veils expected to be passed in the afternoon has been put off for some time. Just how long is unknown right now — it could come back up for consideration again as early as next week if parliament is not dissolved and new elections called.

The bill due for a vote today received unanimous backing in parliament’s home affairs committee on March 31. The draft law proposed to criminalize wearing clothing that covers all or part of the face, including the facial veil known as the niqab and the full outer garment, or burqa, widely worn in Afghanistan.