An attempt to rush a law through parliament to ban full veils in public has upset parliamentarians still waiting for an official cross-party commission’s recommendations to be published.
The report by a cross-party parliamentary commission looking into creating a law to ban the Muslim veil in public – as well as any kind type of clothing that completely hides the face - is due to be published early next week.
But the commission’s efforts have been short-circuited by the leader of the ruling UMP party in the French National assembly, Jean-Francois Copé, who has been lobbying to push through his own law even before the commission’s findings are made public.
Polls say most French voters want a legal ban on full-length face veils, known here by the Afghan term “burqa” - although the few worn in France are Middle Eastern niqabs which show the eyes.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has declared the “burqa” an affront to women's dignity and unwelcome in France. Supporters of a ban also justify it on the basis of France's secular system.
Critics say a law would stigmatise Muslims and be unenforceable.
An absolute ban
André Gérin, Communist MP from the Rhone and head of the parliamentary commission, said the report would recommend an absolute ban on wearing the full veil in public places – but warned it was important to tread carefully in formulating a law.
There is a significant risk that any prohibition seen to be aimed at Muslims would be regarded as unconstitutional and would likely fail in its application.
“It’s a very delicate issue, dictating what people can and can’t do in public places and in the streets,” he told French daily Le Figaro Thursday. “And it goes well beyond the issue of the burqa (sic) itself.”
He added: “Any law must be constitutional. It must be fully understood and shared with the Muslim community, even if they disagree with it.”
Gérin emphatically rejected the move by Copé, equating his desire to get a law passed quickly to being “like a bull in a china shop”.
Copé said Thursday on France Inter radio that his vision for a ban on full veils would be a law that would not go into effect for the first six months, giving time for the public and law enforcement agencies to get used to its implications.
It would include an on-the-spot 750 euro fine, issued the same way as a speeding ticket, although it would come with a police recommendation that the veil be removed, not an absolute order to take it off.
“The idea would be to have the law say specifically that no one can wear, on the streets and in public places, garments or accessories that would have the effect of hiding the face,” he said, adding that exceptions could include periods of extreme cold and events such as carnivals.
A secular country
French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Francois Fillon both openly support such legislation but are concerned that the issue should be given the correct parliamentary attention.
Neither support Copé’s rush to make a law and no parliamentary debate on the issue will take place until after local elections which take place in March.
France, which has the biggest Muslim population in Europe, is a rigidly secular country.
All forms of religious symbols – including headscarves and the wearing of crucifixes – are already banned from schools.
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