President Nicolas Sarkozy has reiterated his belief that the burqa, the head-to-toe veil worn by some Muslim women, has no place in secular France.
“France is a country where there is no place for the burqa, where there is no place for the subservience of women,” he said in a speech on French national identity. He was speaking on Thursday in the Alpine town of La Chapelle en Vercors in his first intervention in a country-wide debate begun last month on what it means to be French.
Public meetings are due to take place in some 450 government offices around the country, involving campaigners, students, parents and teachers, unions, business leaders and French and European lawmakers. The debate will end with a conference early next year on the twin questions of “what it means to be French today” and “what immigration contributes to our national identity.”
The Socialist opposition has accused the government of pandering to anti-immigrant sentiment to shore up support on the Right ahead of regional elections in March. It has said the debate risks alienating France’s large immigrant communities. But Mr Sarkozy on Thursday defended the “noble debate” and said: “Those who do not want this debate are afraid of it.”
Update: See “France will oppose but not ban burqas”, Reuters, 13 November 2009
Further update: See also Tom Heneghan’s piece, “France retreats from burqa ban plan amid burst of hot air”, at FaithWorld, 13 November 2009