French Panel Recommends Limits on Face Veil

Daily News Article   —   Posted on January 26, 2010

(from The Wall Street Journal, WSJ.com) Associated Press, PARIS – A parliamentary panel that wants Muslim women to stop veiling their faces recommended Tuesday that France ban such garb in public facilities, including hospitals and mass transit, and a leading panel member said he foresees such an [decree] by the end of 2010.

The nearly 200-page report contains an [array] of measures intended to dissuade women from wearing all-enveloping veils in France. It also recommends refusing residence cards and citizenship to anyone with visible signs of a “radical religious practice.”

However, there is no call to outlaw such garments-worn by a tiny minority of Muslims-in private areas and in the street. A full ban was the major issue that divided the 32-member, multiparty panel which ultimately heeded warnings that a full ban risked being deemed unconstitutional and could even cause trouble in a country where Islam is the second-largest religion.

The report, which culminates six months of hearings, was formally presented to the president of the National Assembly … Bernard Accoyer, and made public.

Conservative lawmaker Eric Raoult, the panel’s No. 2 member, said later that he foresaw a limited ban in the public sector “before the end of the year.” “We need maybe six months or a little more to explain what we want,” he said, adding that “by the end of 2010” there could be such an interdiction.

Mr. Accoyer was more vague but told a news conference that “we can certainly find solutions in a brief time.” Universities, hospitals, public transport and post offices would be among areas included in a limited ban on the all-encompassing veil.

As envisaged by the panel, such a ban would require that people show their faces when entering the facility and “keep the face uncovered throughout their presence,” the report says. Failure to do so would result “in a refusal to deliver the service demanded.” That means, for instance, that a woman seeking state funds commonly accorded to mothers would walk away empty-handed. …

The veil is widely viewed in France as a gateway to extremism, an insult to gender equality and an offense to France’s secular foundation. A 2004 French law bans Muslim headscarves from primary and secondary school classrooms.

The language in the report was carefully chosen in an effort to avoid offending France’s estimated 5 million Muslims-the largest such population in western Europe-and accusations of discrimination. Muslim leaders have already complained that the debate over the full veil coupled with an ongoing debate on French national identity has left some Muslims feeling their religion is becoming a government target.

The panel went to work, taking testimony from more than 200 experts and others, after President Nicolas Sarkozy said in June that veils that hide the face are “not welcome” on French territory. Such veils are thought to be worn by only several thousand Muslim women who, most often, pin a “niqab” across their faces, hiding all but the eyes. Worn with a long, dark robe, such clothing is customarily associated with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. The report puts an emphasis on educating women who wear the robes in France about the rules of the Republic.

Any action on the report wouldn’t come before March regional elections.

Associated Press.  Reprinted from The Wall Street Journal.  For educational purposes only.  This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization.  Visit the website at wsj.com.


Questions

1. What recommendation has a French parliamentary panel made regarding the veils some Muslim women wear that cover the face? Be specific.

2. What additional recommendation had the panel made regarding residence cards and citizenship?

3. What does the panel not recommend regarding the wearing of such garments?

4. What would be the result of a woman refusing to remove her veil under the new ban?

5. For what reasons is the veil viewed negatively in France?

6. The panel is not proposing a ban on the burqa (a loose fitting body covering) or the headscarf, only the veil that covers the face. Under "Background" below, watch the video: two Muslim women who want to wear the full covering, and in fact say they will break the law rather than go against their religion, are interviewed. No Muslim women who oppose the veil were interviewed. No French citizens (the majority of whom oppose the wearing of the veil in public) were interviewed. A Muslim cleric is shown who says that the Koran does not call for the wearing of any covering. The narrator says that other Muslim clerics are angry that the French government wants to ban the veil, but these men are not shown, nor do we hear their explanation, or refutation of the statement that the Koran does not call for women being covered.
Then read the exerpt from Jean Francois Cope, a French parliamentarian who is a member of the panel making the recommendation on veils.
a) What do you think of Mr. Cope's explanation?
b) What are some of the dangers associated with people being permitted to cover all but their eyes?
c) This issue might come up eventually on a larger scale in the U.S. How do you think that lawmakers should deal with it?

NOTE: A woman's right to wear a veil has already come up in 2002 in Florida. Read the articles at clickorlando.com/news/1214015/detail.html and firstamendmentcenter.org/news.aspx?id=11569.


Background

The following is a translation of French parliamentarian (congressman) Jean Francois Cope's explanation of why the panel believes it is necessary to ban the face veil:
(from translate.google.com - paste in Mr. Cope's url found at: jeanfrancoiscope.fr)

After numerous hearings, members of the ... group ... expressed their conviction that extremists are testing the Republic [France]. They use democratic freedoms to turn them against the principles of coexistence. ...

Opponents of the law explain that [it will] stigmatize our fellow Muslims. For months, I explain that, [we are not attempting to stigmatize Muslims]. The debate is not about secularism or the place of Islam. The fact [is] that key Muslim leaders in our country have said that the burqa was not a religious requirement... The law does not even [mention the] burqa. [Everyone knew] what was until now so obvious that there was no need to include it in our law: the visibility of the face in public is a prerequisite for living together [to ensure] security.

-Jean Francois Cope, member of the French National Assembly

NOTE ON THE FRENCH GOVERNMENT:
France is a semi-presidential representative democratic republic, in which the President of France is head of state and the Prime Minister of France is the head of government, and there is a pluriform, multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in the government, Senate and National Assembly. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. (from wikipedia.org)