FaithWorld

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.

In the last few weeks, a law has come into force banning the wearing of the face-covering Islamic niqab veil in public, and parliament is debating a bill to strip recent immigrants of their French citizenship if they commit certain serious crimes.

Both measures were part of an offensive by conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy to woo voters hostile to immigration, many of whom believe France has too many Arabs and Muslims.

Al Qaeda offers to free French hostages if burqa ban ended – TV

veilAl Qaeda’s north African arm wants a repeal of a ban on the Muslim face veil in France, the release of militants and 7 million euros to free hostages who include five French, Al Arabiya TV said on Monday.  Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is holding seven foreigners in the Sahara desert after kidnapping them last month. (Photo: A woman protests outside the French Embassy in London against France’s veil ban, 25 Sept 2010/Luke MacGregor)

The sources did not specify which militants the hostage-takers wanted released. France’s Foreign Ministry dismissed the report as one of several “rumours” since the kidnappings in mid-September.

The government has not received any demands from AQIM since the seven were taken, but has said it would consider negotiating with the hostage-takers for their release. Initial contacts with AQIM through local chiefs in Mali were “not encouraging” due to the nature of the demands, the sources told the Dubai-based television station.

Austrian far-right surges in Vienna vote

vienna elexAustria’s resurgent far-right party won over a quarter of the vote in Vienna’s provincial election as voters took their discontent to the ballot box, reflecting a wider European trend as voters concerned about the economic crisis and integration of Muslims turn to rightist parties. (Photo: Heinz-Christian Strache, top candidate of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), October 10, 2010/Leonhard Foeger)

Vienna’s Social Democrats under Michael Häupl, mayor since 1994, won 44.1 percent, losing their absolute majority while Heinz-Christian Strache’s far-right Freedom Party scooped up 27.1 percent, up from 15 percent in 2005. All the other main parties lost ground. The results suggest Freedom, which has called for a ban on mosques with minarets and on Islamic face veils, is returning to its strength of the late 1990s.

Analysts say that if the centrist parties keep losing support, they might start catering more to far-right concerns on social policy, mulling for example a ban on Islamic face veils in public and stricter limits on immigration.

“Burqa bans”: First France, then the Netherlands – who’s next?

veil 1First the French banned Muslim face veils, now the Dutch have decided to follow suit. With debates about outlawing burqas and niqabs spreading across Europe, a third ban — perhaps even more — may not be far behind. (Photo: A Muslim woman protests against France’s banning of full face veils outside the French Embassy in London September 25, 2010/Luke MacGregor)

Only a small minority of Muslim women in Europe cover their faces, but their veils have become ominous symbols for Europeans troubled by problems such as the economic crisis, immigration and Muslim integration.

With Europe’s political mood moving to the right, low-cost, high-symbolism measures such as veil bans have become a rallying cry for far-right parties knocking at the door of power. Their appeal also resonates with those worried by possible security threats from masked people or offended by the blow to gender equality they see when a covered woman walks by.

Dutch government pact sealed with ban on “burqas” to win Wilders support

veil (Photo: A Muslim woman protests against France’s ban on full face veils outside the French Embassy in London September 25, 2010/Luke MacGregor)

Two centre-right parties agreed on Thursday to ban full face veils in the Netherlands as the price for parliamentary support from the anti-Islam Freedom party for their planned minority government.

The Netherlands would become the second European Union country to ban Muslim veils — known collectively as burqas in many European countries — after France, in what many see as a shift to the right which has dented the bloc’s reputation for tolerance and may increase security risks.

The draft agreement tightens the rules on immigration and boosts the number of police officers in a concession to far-right Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders, who is on trial for inciting hatred against Muslims.

Saudis say Muslim women exempted from wearing face veils in France

saudi niqabTwo Saudi clerics have declared Muslim women are exempt from wearing full veils in France, which is planning to ban them, but added they should avoid visiting it as tourists.

The comments, by Islamic jurisprudence scholar Mohamed al-Nujaimi and author and cleric Ayed al-Garni, come two weeks after French lawmakers passed a bill under which women could be fined for appearing in public with the all-covering burqa or the niqab, which leaves the eyes exposed. (Photo: Saudi women snapping photos in Riyadh, September 23, 2009/Fahad Shadeed)

“For a woman who permanently resides in France or is a French citizen, if there is harm in wearing the veil … it is permitted that she shows her face when need and necessity demand it,” Nujaimi said in remarks published by al-Watan newspaper.

French lawmakers vote to ban full face veils in public

national assemblyMuslim women could be fined for wearing full face veils in public in France under a bill approved overwhelmingly on Tuesday by the lower house of parliament. Offenders would be fined 150 euros ($189) or required to take part in a citizenship class. The bill, which critics say stigmatizes immigrants, bans people “from wearing, in a public place, garments designed to cover the face.” (Photo: Veil ban debate in the National Assembly in Paris, July 13, 2010/Benoit Tessier)

Forcing someone to cover their face would be punishable by a one-year prison sentence and a 30,000 euro fine. The law does not apply if the face is covered for carnivals or artistic events.

In the vote, 335 members of parliament approved the ban, with just one against. Opposition socialist and Green lawmakers abstained. The legislation still has to be vetted by the Constitutional Council, France’s highest constitutional authority, and approved by the Senate.

Strong support to outlaw face veils as France prepares to vote ban

France’s plan to ban full face veils, which comes up for a vote in the National Assembly on Tuesday, enjoys 82% popular support in the country, according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project. Its neighbours also approve — 71% of those polled in Germany, 62% in Britain and 59% in Spain agreed that there should be laws prohibiting the Muslim veils known as niqabs and burqas in public. burqa 1(Photo: French woman fined for wearing a niqab while driving outside court in Nantes June 28, 2010/Stephane Mahe)

The poll, conducted from April 7 to May 8, did not range further afield, but reports from other countries show support there as well. The lower house of the Belgian parliament has voted for a ban, which should be approved by the Senate after the summer. In the Netherlands, several bills to ban full veils in certain sectors such as schools and public service are in preparation. Switzerland’s justice minister has suggested the cantons there should pass partial bans but make exceptions for visiting Muslim tourists (the wives of rich sheikhs visiting their bankers in Zurich or Geneva?)

The big exception in the Pew poll is the United States, where 65% of those polled disapprove of a ban and only 28% support the idea. The poll did not investigate the reasons for this difference, so we can only assume it has to do with the more widespread acceptance of religion in public life in the U.S. and a more open approach to immigration.

Europe, face veils and a Catholic view of a Muslim issue

burqa 1The French National Assembly begins debating a complete ban on Muslim full face veils in public next week and could outlaw them by the autumn. Belgium’s lower house of parliament has passed a draft ban and could banish them from its streets in the coming months if its Senate agrees. The Spanish Senate has passed a motion to ban them after a few towns introduced their own prohibitions. (Photo: A veiled French woman outside the Belgian Parliament in Brussels/Yves Herman)

Calls to ban “burqas” — the word most widely in Europe used for full veils, even if most full veils seen are niqabs — have also been heard in the Netherlands and Denmark. According to a  Financial Times poll,  the ban proposal also “wins enthusiastic backing in the UK, Italy, Spain and Germany”.

Only a tiny minority of Muslim women in these countries actually cover their faces, but that doesn’t seem to matter. That Switzerland has only four minarets didn’t stop Swiss voters from banning them in a referendum last November (and maybe banning veils next). There seems to be a movement to ban religious symbols that Europeans either reject or fear.

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.”