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Wearing full Islamic veil could land women in 'citizenship' school

Text by Lorena GALLIOT

Latest update : 2010-05-19

Under a controversial bill that would ban wearing the full Islamic veil in public, women "offenders" in France could be forced to take citizenship courses to "remind them of the values of the French republic".

Women living in France who are caught wearing the full Islamic veil in public may be sent to mandatory “French citizenship courses” if supporters of a controversial bill get their way.

The text of the bill would make it illegal for people to wear any item of clothing which hides their face in public places. The obvious target of the proposed law are som

A guide to the four main types of Muslim veil

e two thousand Muslim women in France who don the head-to-toe religious garment.

According to justice minister Michèle Alliot-Marie, who drafted the bill, “the full Islamic veil challenges the values that we share and the very principles according to which we live together.”

The ban would not be limited to full Islamic veils, but would exclude specific items, such as facial coverage imposed by safety regulations (helmets for motorcycle drivers or masks for construction workers), and those worn on special occasions (costumed carnivals).

Foreigners, notably wealthy tourists from Gulf states, would also be affected by the ban.

Women wearing a full face veil in public could be hit with a 150 euro fine. But the bill stipulates a much harsher penalty for men found guilty of forcing their wives or daughters to cover their face: a one-year jail sentence and a 15,000 euro fine.

Citizenship school

In addition, the bill also proposes that fully-veiled women receive “French citizenship” courses to “inform or remind them of the values of the French republic”.

“The courses are aimed at helping women who wear the full veil understand the reasons behind the ban,” Eric Raoult, an MP for the ruling centre-right UMP party told FRANCE 24.

Raoult, who participated in a parliamentary commission on the Islamic veil earlier this year, stressed that the courses would be designed to “inform women about their rights”.

“The small minority of women who wear the full veil in France live relatively isolated from society. They don’t always know that the principle of equality between men and woman is fundamental in France. We need to tell them that if their husbands or fathers force them to do or wear anything they don’t want to, the law is on their side,” he said.

According to Raoult, the course would also focus on the negative effects of wearing a full veil in various practical situations. “A woman’s field of vision and hearing is impaired by the full veil. This can lead to dangerous situations while driving, or even when crossing a busy street”, the MP explained.

Raoult also brings up the potential security risk of people hiding behind a full veil while engaging in criminal activity, such as shoplifting or robbing a bank.

Another lesson would focus on France’s long tradition of secularism, and why religious symbols are barred from public institutions like schools, government offices and hospitals.

Resistance from jurists and some Muslims

The bill is expected to go before parliament in July, where it should face some resistance despite French lawmakers' unanimous resolution of May 11 condemning the burqa as “contrary to the values of the French republic”.

The Socialist opposition has drafted an alternative text restricting the ban to official state buildings and government offices, citing repeated warnings from the powerful State Council that a ban in all public spaces may be deemed unconstitutional.

“We fear that you will go too far”, socialist MP Jean Glavany told the justice minister at the National Assembly on May 11. “We must defend the Republic with wisdom and perspicacity”.

If and when the bill is signed into law, a six-month period of “mediation and pedagogical encounters” would seek to convince women to shed the full-face veil voluntarily.

Debate over the full veil ban has prompted warnings from various Muslim organisations, which say the legislation could stoke tensions within France’s six million-strong Muslim community.

"Rather than enacting a law barring women from expressing their malaise, we should think about what prompted them to want to cover themselves," Mohamed Moussaoui, the head of France’s Council of the Muslim Faith, told lawmakers in early May.

Last March, Belgium’s lower house of parliament voted to ban the wearing of full Islamic veils in public, making it the first country in Europe to enforce such a restriction.

Date created : 2010-05-18

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