FaithWorld

France’s ban on full face veils goes into force

(Official poster for the information campaign about France's full face veil ban/SIG)

(Official poster for the information campaign about France's full face veil ban. The quote says "Nobody can wear clothes meant to hide the face in public."/SIG)

France’s ban on full face veils, a first in Europe, went into force Monday, exposing anyone who wears the Muslim niqab or burqa in public to fines of 150 euros (£131.90).  France’s five-million-strong Muslim minority is Western Europe’s largest, but fewer than 2,000 women are believed actually to wear a full face veil. Many Muslim leaders have said they support neither the veil nor the law banning it.

The timing is sensitive after France’s ruling political party, President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP, called a debate on the place of Islam in France, a move that some say risked stigmatising a portion of the population.

Police received a guide last week to help implement the ban. It tells them not to remove veils by force. It also notes that the ban does not apply inside private cars but reminds policemen such cases can be dealt with under road safety rules.

A Muslim property dealer, who is urging women to keep wearing the veil if they want to, has urged supporters to meet outside Notre Dame cathedral in central Paris for a silent prayer during the day. He has also pledged to auction off a house near Paris to raise one million euros for a fund to pay the fees for any woman fined for wearing a full face veil in public.

Sarkozy party: Islam debate undercuts French far-right

(Jean-Francois Cope, France's UMP political party leader, speaks at the end of the UMP party's debate on secularism in Paris April 5, 2011. France's ruling conservatives discussed a 26-point secularism platform for the practice of Islam in French society on Tuesday at a debate which has forced the party to fend off accusations of bigotry. The slogan reads " Secularism, to live better together". REUTERS/Charles Platiau )

(Jean-François Copé, April 5, 2011. The sign says: "Secularism - for living together better"/Charles Platiau )

France’s ruling conservative party held a controversial debate on the practice of Islam on Tuesday, rejecting charges of bigotry and saying that airing the issue could help stem the rising popularity of the far-right. President Nicolas Sarkozy called for the discussion on Islam and secularism to address fears that some overt displays of Muslim faith, including street prayer and full-face veils, were undermining France’s secular identity.

With his popularity at record lows a year before a presidential election, Sarkozy has been accused of seeking to woo back right-wing voters increasingly drawn to the National Front party under its telegenic new leader Marine Le Pen. Even before it began, the debate had been tarnished by criticism from religious leaders, a boycott by France’s largest Muslim group and the absence of Prime Minister Francois Fillon.

Boycott and protests set stage for French Islam debate

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(Muslims demonstrate against the debate about secularism and Islam proposed by the UMP party, April 2, 2011. The placard reads,"French and Muslims, where is the problem?"/Benoit Tessier)

France’s ruling conservatives are pressing ahead with a public debate on Islam and secularism on Tuesday despite criticism that it is an excuse to pander to far-right voters ahead of a general election next year. President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party said in December that it would host a public forum to address fears about Islam’s role in French society, following controversy over Muslim street prayers, halal-only restaurants and full-face Islamic veils.

But a hail of criticism from religious leaders and some party members has forced the UMP to downsize the event and fight off accusations that a focus on Islam will provide cover for the airing of anti-Muslim prejudices among the French.

French religious leaders warn against divisive Islam debate

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(Abderrahmane Dahmane displays green star to protest against France's Islam debate, March 29, 2011/Gonzalo Fuentes)

The leaders of France’s six main religions warned the government on Wednesday against a planned debate on Islam they say could stigmatise Muslims and fuel prejudice as the country nears national elections next year. Weighing in on an issue that is tearing apart President Nicolas Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party, the Conference of French Religious Leaders said the discussion about respect for France’s secular system could only spread confusion at a turbulent time.

The UMP plans to hold a public forum on secularism next week that critics decry as veiled Muslim-bashing to win back voters who defected to the far-right National Front at local polls last week and could thwart Sarkozy’s reelection hopes in 2012.

Islam emerges as divisive issue in French local polls campaign

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(Marine Le Pen, the anti-immigrant National Front leader whose success has prompted President Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party to veer to the right before a local elections runoff on Sunday, photographed after voting in the first round on March 20, 2011/Pascal Rossignol )

Islam has emerged as a central issue in the campaign for French local elections on Sunday that President Nicolas Sarkozy’s party hopes to win by taking a tough line on the integration of France’s large Muslim minority.

Sarkozy, who faces an uphill battle for reelection next year, has set the tone by blurring the border between his UMP party and Marine Le Pen’s National Front, the once-shunned anti-immigrant party that recently overtook him in opinion polls. Interior Minister Claude Guéant, until recently Sarkozy’s chief of staff in the Elysee Palace, has fleshed this out with a series of statements flirting with the anti-Muslim rhetoric that has made National Front leader Marine Le Pen so popular.

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).

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.

French far-right star compares praying Muslims to Nazi occupiers

prayers (Photo: Muslims in Perpignan pray in public after a Muslim youth was murdered, May 28, 2005/Georges Bartoli)

Marine Le Pen has put paid to the idea she would put a softer face on France’s National Front for elections in 2012 with anti-Muslim comments that have aroused a storm of criticism. Le Pen, the likely next far-right challenger for the French presidency, compared overflowing mosques in France with the Nazi occupation — remarks indicative of a drift to the right in parts of Europe that could let the National Front eat into support for the ruling conservative UMP party in 2012.

Le Pen, the frontrunner to succeed her father Jean-Marie Le Pen as head of the party, made the comments on a television show last Thursday with about 3.4 million viewers watching. On Monday she dismissed any suggestion of a gaffe. “My comments were absolutely not a blunder, but a completely thought-out analysis,” she told a news conference, adding she was merely saying out loud what everyone thought privately.

le pen 1Given support of 12 to 14 percent in recent opinion polls, Marine Le Pen is regarded as more electable than her father, who was convicted in 1990 for inciting racial hatred. But her remarks suggest that far from moderating the party line, she will go all out to outgun conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy to secure the slice of the French electorate that opposes high immigration.

Algeria War wounds still bleed in French politics

algiers barricade (Photo: Algiers barricade by French settlers backing General Jacques Massu, January 1960/Michel Marcheux)

Nearly 50 years after Algeria won independence from France, the unhealed wounds of the war of decolonisation keep wrenching at French society and could play a key role in the 2012 presidential election.

The unending Algerian trauma explains why France finds it so hard to integrate its large Muslim minority, why second and third generation Muslims of Maghreb origin born in France often feel alienated from their country of birth, and why politicians continue to find fertile ground in their quest for votes.

“There is an endless battle of memory, both within France and between the French and the Algerians,” said Benjamin Stora, the leading French historian of the Maghreb.