French politicans split over ban on Muslim veil

By staff writers
8 Jan 2010

France's main opposition party, the Socialists, have said that they will not support government plans to outlaw the wearing of certain forms of Islamic dress in public.

However, the governing centre-right party is going ahead with plans to ban clothing which covers the face as well as the rest of the body, leaving only the eyes and hands visible. President Nicholas Sarkozy has said that face veils are "not welcome" in the country.

Critics argue that the move is an assault on civil liberties and will fuel Muslim hostility to the government.

But while the Socialists declared their opposition to the legislation, they insisted that they do not approve of clothing that covers the face as well as the whole body. A party spokesperson, Benoit Hamon, described it as a "prison for women" which "has no place in the French Republic", but said that "an ad-hoc law would not have the anticipated effect".

The word "burka" is sometimes mistakenly used to describe such clothing, although the term more accurately refers to a particular garment worn most commonly in Afghanistan and the neighbouring area.

The law as drafted would fine anyone "on the public street whose face is entirely covered". The fine would be the equivalent of around £700, with twice the sum for anyone who forces someone else to cover her face.

Only a tiny percentage of France's five million Muslims wear the face veil, or niqab, but the law could lead other Muslims, or even non-Muslims, to cover their face as a form of protest. The law is also likely to face a challenge in the European Court of Human Rights.

The British Muslim writer Na'ima B Robert insisted that many women, such as herself, cover their faces as a matter of choice.

"If I was leaving my house wearing practically anything else, this would be a non-issue: a hood, a cape, hotpants, even a bikini, may elicit stares and comments but never calls to enact legislation" she said.

She insisted that "all have the right to express themselves through their dress".

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