France moves closer to banning the full-face veil today when its parliament begins debating a law that would outlaw the wearing of the burqa or the niqab anywhere in public. It is a measure that seems popular with the public. Polls suggest 70% back a ban.
The numbers that wear the full-face veil in France are tiny. Perhaps 2,000 and then the tourists from the Gulf, who like to shop in the luxury stores on the Champs Elysees.
The French government says this is not an argument about religion but about values. By adopting this legislation the French are insisting that those who live in France abide by their values. As the writers of the legislation say, hiding your face in public is “an offence to the nation’s values”. It violates the republican ideals of secularism and gender equality.
The French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, said it was “a sign of debasement”. The Immigration Minister, Eric Besson, described the burqa as a “walking coffin”. The French Prime Minister, Francois Fillon, said Muslims who wear face coverings are “hijacking Islam” and provoking a “dark and sectarian image”.
See also “French opposition to boycott vote on burqa ban”, AFP, 6 July 2010