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

    US, Allies Discuss Next Steps in Islamic State Fight

    Meeting comes a day after US Navy SEAL was killed while fighting Islamic State forces in northern Iraq

    In China, Traditional Banks Fight Challenge From Internet Firms

    Internet companies lent more than $150 billion to customers in 2015, which is an extremely small amount compared to the much larger lending by commercial banks last year

    Trump Faces Tough Presidential Odds Against Clinton

    Numerous national election surveys show former secretary of state defeating presumptive Republican nominee with tough talk to halt illegal immigration and temporarily block Muslims from entering country

    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.
    Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limitedi
    X
    Katie Arnold
    May 04, 2016 12:31 PM
    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora