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.