Last Updated: Mon Nov 01, 2010 11:52 am (KSA) 08:52 am (GMT)

French parliament report calls for burka ban

The sight of fully-veiled women is not an everyday occurrence in France
The sight of fully-veiled women is not an everyday occurrence in France

France was set to move one step closer to barring Muslim women from wearing the full Islamic veil with the release Tuesday of a report calling for a ban on the burka, also known as niqab, in public institutions.

A French parliament report called for a ban on the full Islamic veil in all schools, hospitals, public transport and government offices, saying it was an affront to French values.

"The wearing of the full veil is a challenge to our republic. This is unacceptable," the report released by a parliament commission said. "We must condemn this excess."

 The wearing of the full veil is the tip of the iceberg. There are scandalous practices hidden behind this veil 
French communist lawmaker Andre Gerin

After six months of hearings, the panel of 32 lawmakers recommended a ban on the face-covering veil in all state-run institutions and offices, the broadest move yet to restrict Muslim dress in France.

The commission called on parliament to adopt a formal resolution stating that the burka was "contrary to the values of the republic" and proclaiming that "all of France is saying 'no' to the full veil."

Women who turn up at government offices wearing the full veil should be denied services such as a work visa, residency papers or French citizenship, the report recommended.

The panel however stopped short of proposing broad legislation to outlaw the niqab on the streets or in shopping centers after cautioning that such a move would have to be reviewed by the courts to establish its legality.

"The wearing of the full veil is the tip of the iceberg," said communist lawmaker Andre Gerin, the chair of the commission.

"There are scandalous practices hidden behind this veil," said Gerin who vowed to fight the "gurus" seeking to export a racial brand of fundamentalism and sectarianism to France.

"Not welcome" in France

French President Nicolas Sarkozy (File)

President Nicolas Sarkozy set the tone for the debate when he declared the burka "not welcome" in France and described it as a symbol of women's "subservience" which cannot be tolerated in a country that considers itself a human rights leader.

Hopes for reaching any sort of political consensus have evaporated, with the opposition Socialists, divided by those calling for a total prohibition and those opposed to stigmatizing wearers of the full veil, planning to abstain from the vote on the report.

The leader of Sarkozy's right-wing party in parliament, Jean-Francois Cope, has already presented draft legislation that would make it illegal for anyone to cover their faces in public for reasons of security.

Home to Europe's biggest Muslim minority, estimated at about six million, France is being closely watched at a time of particular unease over Islam, three months after Swiss voters approved a ban on minarets.

The full-face veil has become a flashpoint in French politics

No European country has adopted sweeping national legislation on restricting the full veil.

Despite a large Muslim presence, the sight of fully-veiled women is not an everyday occurrence in France. Only 1,900 women wear the niqab, according to the interior ministry.

Half of them live in the Paris region and 90 percent are under 40.

French support for a law banning the full veil is strong: a poll last week showed that 57 percent are in favor.

While lawmakers are divided on the scope of the restrictions, with many fearing that a draconian law would stigmatize Muslims who are already bristling at the anti-Islam rants heard during the government's national identity debate, they agree that some time will be needed to craft a solid text that would stand up to a court challenge.

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