A French parliamentary committee’s long-awaited report on a partial ban of the burqa, or full Islamic veil, was made public on Tuesday. The report, nearly 200 pages long, proposes to ban the burqa from public schools, hospitals and transport systems.
A much-anticipated French parliament report called Tuesday for a ban on the burqa, or full Islamic veil, in all schools, hospitals, public transport and government offices, saying the veil 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.
President Nicolas Sarkozy set the tone for the debate when he said last June that the veil was “not welcome in France” and was a symbol of the “subservience of women” that was not in line with the French Republic’s core value of equality.
Polls say most French voters support a ban on the burqa, a term generically used for the niqab - which covers the face, but leaves the eyes open - as well as the traditional burqa, or all-enveloping garment with a mesh, used in Afghanistan and the Indian subcontinent.
In France, the niqab is used by the Muslim community although in practice, only a tiny minority of the country’s estimated five million Muslims opt to wear it.
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The burqa ban has been a divisive issue among French lawmakers. On the left, some say banning the veil in public institutions does not go far enough, while others believe any ban would stigmatise the country’s large Muslim community.
On the right, Jean-Francois Copé, leader of the ruling UMP party in the French lower house, said he would propose his own bill which would provide for an outright ban with on-the-spot fines for offenders.
FRANCE 24’s political editor Marc Perelman, reporting from parliament, said the report did not represent any kind of consensus among lawmakers, but was a first step in a debate that is likely to continue for a long time.
“Most parties agree to ban the veil, but they do not agree on how to do it,” he said. “What is likely is a resolution, which is a way for parliament to affirm the republican principles [behind the rejection of the full veil]. But this is a difficult issue and it will not be debated until after regional elections that take place in March.”
The commission charged with investigating a law to ban the veil interviewed senior politicians, cultural and educational experts, historians, and experts on Islam.
They also interviewed a Muslim woman from the southern French city of Avignon who wears the veil (although the interview was conducted with the veil off).
The report recommends:
A parliamentary vote supporting the rejection of the full veil: a symbolic move designed to demonstrate that “all of France” rejects the full veil and that it should be “prohibited in the French Republic”.
A ban on the wearing of the veil in public institutions: Rather than opting for an outright ban on the veil as proposed by Jean-Francois Copé, the commission recommends that the ban should only apply to public places – hospitals, post offices, public transport and the like. Even so, the proposal carries significant legal risks, including the possibility that the ban may contravene European Human rights legislation.
Educational programmes: The commission seeks to avoid stigmatising the 1,900 women in France who wear the veil, and by extension the wider Muslim community. The report recommends ongoing educational programmes aimed at reducing fundamentalism and promoting France’s republican values.
Measures to reduce stigmatising the French Muslim community: Less discussed than the veil issue, the report also recommends measures aimed at the wider Muslim community, including the creation of a “national school of Islamic studies”, debates on the nature of Islamophobia, direct aid for the building of mosques and Islamic cultural centres, and the creation of new national holidays to celebrate religious festivals such as the Islamic Eid and Judaism's Yom Kippur. However, some of these proposals were not unanimously approved by the commission, and are included in the report simply as “individual suggestions”.
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