News / Europe

    France Continues Debate on Banning Face Veils in Public

    Multimedia

    Audio
    Lisa Bryant

    A French parliamentary commission submitted a report Tuesday on wearing a type of Islamic veil that covers the face.  The commission's findings cap months of debate over whether to ban the face veil in France - home to Europe's largest Muslim community.

    Oloria, 20,  has been wearing the niqab, or face-covering veil, for the past three years.  She says she adopted it as a personal choice. Oloria says she feels closer to her Muslim religion and more comfortable in public, because she believes it hides her from the eyes of men.  She says her parents, who hail from The Gambia, initially opposed her decision.  But now they accept it.

    But Oloria may soon be forced to take off her face veil in public.  A growing number of politicians want to ban the Muslim garment from the streets of France.

    Only a small percentage of Muslim women here wear the face veil.  But their presence has nonetheless triggered one of France's hottest debates in recent years.  It was kicked off last June by President Nicolas Sarkozy, who announced in a major speech that the face veil, which he called a burqa, was against French values and not welcome in France.

    Critics argue it is a symbol of female servitude and against women's rights.  They also argue the veil presents a security risk, since it hides the wearer's face.

    Earlier this month Jean-Francois Cope, parliamentary floor leader of Mr. Sarkozy's ruling UMP party, introduced draft legislation to ban the face-veil.

    Speaking on French radio, Cope said a veil ban did not aim to sanction a particular population.  He also noted that Islamic authorities say a face veil is not a religious obligation.

    On Tuesday, a parliamentary commission presented a report on the face veil, after months of studying the issue.  Already, the commission's president, Communist lawmaker Andre Gerand, says he supports a law and that many commission members do too.  If passed, such legislation is expected not just to single out the veil, but generally ban any article covering the face in public.

    Polls show the majority of French back a face-veil ban.  But the matter is far from settled.  President Sarkozy wants parliament to pass a nonbinding resolution, rather than a law.  Other lawmakers, including those from the leading opposition Socialist party, are against any measure.

    More broadly, many critics are asking why the debate is taking place at all, since it affects such a small number of women.  Some argue it is diverting discussion from more serious problems, like the economy.  Others claim it represents a bid by Mr. Sarkozy's conservative UMP party to lure far-right voters for regional elections in March.

    What is clear, says Claire de Gallembert, an expert on Islam at the Paris-based National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) is that the debate is alienating France's five-million-member Muslim community.

    "It is meant also to send a message to Muslims in France, to say you are not ready to adapt yourselves to Republican values, but the Republic is strong and is going to force you to adopt such values," she said.  "And the problem is, most Muslims do not feel concerned by the burqa."

    Noura Jaballah, head of the European Forum of Muslim Women, a conservative umbrella group, argues the debate unfairly stigmatizes Muslims.  Jaballah wears a headscarf, but is against a face-covering veil.

    Jaballah warns that banning the face veil may have a perverse effect.  Instead of pushing women to abandon it, those who wear the veil may simply stay at home.

    This is not the first time the Muslim veil has sparked controversy in France.  In 2004, the French government adopted a law banning Muslim girls from wearing headscarves to schools.  Islamic expert de Gallembert says the legislation has had mixed results.

    "We do not have scarves anymore at state schools, but the girls are putting on their scarves again when they go outside of schools," she said.

    In fact, de Gallembert estimates the number of Muslim women wearing headscarves in France has grown since 2004, although there are no firm statistics to back this up.

    Oloria says she is not sure what she will do if a law is passed.  She says it would be very difficult to remove her veil.

    Conservative lawmakers say they want to wait until March elections are over before deciding on legislation.  They claim they do not want to politicize the face veil, but most French agree this has already been done. 

    You May Like

    Video How Aleppo Rebels Plan to Withstand Assad's Siege

    Rebels in Aleppo are laying plans to withstand a siege by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in likelihood the regime cuts a final main supply line running west of city

    Scientists Detect Gravitational Waves in Landmark Discovery

    Researchers likened discovery to difference between looking at piece of music on paper and then hearing it in real life

    Prince Ali: FIFA Politics Affected International Fixtures

    Some countries faced unfavorable treatment for not toeing political line inside soccer world body, Jordanian candidate to head FIFA says

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    X
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.