FaithWorld

France creates paper trail in campaign against Muslim veils

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--- A fully veiled woman walks past the city hall in Ronchin, northern France, 9 Aug 2009/Farid Alouache ---

France is building up an interesting paper trail in its campaign to ban full-face Muslim veils. The latest twist in this story is that Immigration Minister Eric Besson has denied citizenship to a foreign man said to have imposed the wearing of a full-face veil on his wife, a French citizen. “He was depriving her of her liberty to come and go with her face uncovered and rejected the principles of secularism and equality between men and women,” he said in a statement on Tuesday. On Wednesday morning, Prime Minister François Fillon said he would sign a decree Besson had drafted to make this kind of constraint an obstacle to naturalisation.

This is not the first piece of paper on this trail. A veiled Moroccan woman was denied citizenship in 2008, a decision the State Council upheld on appeal. That occurred before the “ban the burqa” activism that led to the parliamentary commission that recommended last month France explicitly outlaw the full veil. The argument in the 2008 case was not about the veil itself, for example as a security risk because the person cannot be easily identified, but about a “radical religious practice that is incompatible with the essential values of the French community.”

According to the newspaper Le Figaro, the man is Moroccan and needs French citizenship to settle in France with his wife. It says they are both members of Tablighi Jamaat, a deeply conservative Islamic missionary movement whose members strive to live according to the model of the Prophet Mohammad. Le Figaro said the man argued that his wife should either stay at home or leave home only if fully covered, and the wife agreed to this.

In approving Besson’s draft decree, the State Council did not mention the veil itself, but rather the husband’s behaviour which it said was incompatible with French values, Le Figaro said. Again, the argument is defence of women’s rights and gender equality, not religious or individual rights.

Italy moves towards emulating France on burqa ban

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Equal Opportunities Minister Mara Carfagna in the Senate in Rome, 15 May 2008/Max Rossi

Italy may soon seek a ban on full-face Muslim veils, drawing on debate in France where President Nicolas Sarkozy has described the burqa as unwelcome and legislators are considering a vote to outlaw or restrict it. Equal Opportunities Minister Mara Carfagna has said the Italian government will quickly follow in France’s footsteps, breathing new life into four draft bills on burqas already circulating in parliamentary committees.

“I completely agree with the French initiative, which I think will push other European countries and hence, also Italy, to enact laws on this issue,” Carfagna said this week.  “This is about a sacrosanct battle to defend the dignity and rights of immigrant women. A law is being studied that would ban the use of a burqa and niqab, which are not religious symbols — that’s not us saying it, but the top religious authorities of the Islamic world, like the imams of Cairo and Paris.”