Socialists come out against burqa ban
France's Socialist Party has come out against a potential law forbidding women from wearing the burqa. The party argued that women should instead be discouraged from wearing the head-to-toe-veil. France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim population.
AFP - France's opposition Socialists on Wednesday came out against calls for a law banning the full Islamic veil but said Muslim women must be discouraged from wearing the burqa.
The announcement by the Socialists came after President Nicolas Sarkozy left open the prospect of legislation to ban the veil and ahead of a much-awaited parliament report on the loaded issue to be released at the end of the month.
Home to Europe's biggest Muslim minority, France set up the special panel six months ago to consider whether a law should be enacted to bar Muslim women from wearing the full veil, known as a burqa or niqab.
The Socialist Party opposes the wearing of the burqa but "is not favourable" to a legal ban, which would amount to an inconsistent "ad hoc law", its spokesman Benoit Hamon said on RTL radio.
"We are totally opposed to the burqa. The burqa is a prison for women and has no place in the French Republic," he said. "But an ad hoc law would not have the anticipated effect."
The Socialist spokesman nevertheless called for action.
The wearing of the full veil reflects a "shift away from a certain type of (moderate) Islam", he said, adding: "We must use all of the legal instruments at our disposal to ensure that this behaviour is condemned when it is encouraged."
Sarkozy himself has said that the burqa is not welcome in France but has not stated publicly whether legislation should be enacted.
The leader of Sarkozy's party in parliament, Jean-Francois Cope, has said he will propose a bill this month to ban the wearing of the burqa in public to defend France from "extremists".
But many politicians from the left and right have cautioned that a draconian law banning the head-to-toe veil would be difficult to enforce and probably face a challenge in the European rights court.
"If tomorrow the burqa is not allowed in public places, how would the police act to convince a woman to abandon her burqa? Would they force her to take it off?" asked Hamon.
Sarkozy this week raised the prospect of a non-binding parliamentary resolution against the burqa and said he was not opposed to legislation, members of his right-wing UMP party told AFP.
Critics argue that a specific law enacted to ban the full veil would be tantamount to using a sledgehammer to swat a fly. Only 1,900 women wear the full veil in France, according to the interior ministry, and more than half of those live in the Paris region.
Opponents warn that a law would stigmatise France's six million Muslims who already feel targeted in the government-sponsored debate on national identity, which has exposed fears about Islam.
Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux last month told the parliamentary panel that the burqa should be outlawed in public services such as the post office, government offices, local administrations and in public transport.
The law would invoke security reasons for the ban and the requirement that citizens uncover their faces in public.
In 2004, France passed a law banning headscarves and any other "conspicuous" religious symbols in state schools after a long-running debate on how far it was willing to go to accommodate Islam in its strictly secular society.