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PM Fillon wraps up divisive debate on 'national identity'

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-02-08

A cabinet meeting convened Monday by Prime Minister François Fillon (centre) brought an official end to months of public debate on the tricky and divisive issue of French national identity.

 
Cabinet ministers gathered at the office of Prime Minister François Fillon in Paris on Monday to wrap up months of public debate on the sticky issue of French national identity.
 
The identity debate was launched by President Nicolas Sarkozy, in league with Immigration Minister Eric Besson last October, and immediately gave rise to a flurry of conflicting opinions over whether such a debate was even necessary. The government launched a website to collect opinions on the topic and invited the public to take part in national identity debates, some 350 of which have taken place across the country in the months since.
 
Although opposition parties dismissed the discussion as a cynical ploy by the Sarkozy camp to drum up nationalist fervour ahead of regional March 14-21 elections, the identity issue quickly narrowed down to a discussion centred on two main themes: France’s immigration policies and the practice of Islam in France, specifically a debate over the wearing of the burqa or niqab, Islamic full-coverage veils for women.
 
France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim minority, estimated at between five and six million.
 
Sarkozy sent some tempers flaring when he announced that the burqa was "not welcome" in a secular France and proclaimed his support of legislation to outlaw the veil.
 
The burqa debate gained new traction last week, when Besson announced that he had signed a decree rejecting an unidentified man’s request for French citizenship after it became known that the man insisted his wife cover herself with the head-to-toe garment.
 
A Feb. 2 statement from Besson’s office said that during the citizenship review process it became clear that the man, whose nationality has not been revealed, “forced his wife to wear the full veil, thus depriving her of freedom of movement with her face exposed, and rejecting the principles of secularism and equality between men and women".  
 
A parliamentary report the week before had called for a ban on wearing the full veil in all public places -- including schools, hospitals, government offices and on public transport -- saying that it posed an "unacceptable" challenge to French values.
 
The French government is now seeking legal advice before drafting new legislation that would outlaw the veil. Fillon has asked the State Council, France’s highest administrative court, to review the legal aspects of imposing a ban on the veil that would prove “as wide and effective as possible”, and to submit its findings by the end of March.
 
Among the proposals that the ministers are expected to discuss today are the creation of a civil service for young French nationals, the promotion of multiculturalism and tougher measures against discriminatory practices.

Date created : 2010-02-08

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