France moves to outlaw the burka and niqab citing égalité

Proposal angers Sarkozy as he struggles to contain surge in anti-Islamic feeling

The parliamentary leader of the ruling French party is to put forward a draft law within two weeks to ban the full-body veil from French streets and all other public places.

The announcement by Jean-François Copé, cutting short an anguished six-month debate on the burka and its Arab equivalent, the niqab, will divide both right and left and is likely to anger President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Mr Copé, in an interview with Le Figaro to be published tomorrow, said that he would bring forward a law which would impose fines of up to €750 (£675) on anyone appearing in public "with their face entirely masked". Exemptions, still to be drafted, would permit the wearing of masks on "traditional, festive occasions", such as carnivals. Stiffer punishments would be laid down for men who "forced" their wives or daughters to wear full-body veils.

President Sarkozy has been trying to contain a surge of anti-Islamic feeling unleashed in France by his call in October for a "debate on national identity". He said on Monday that he saw no reason for immediate legislation to ban the burka or full-length veil.

In a private meeting with parliamentary members of his centre-right party, the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), he suggested that they should simply pass a resolution declaring the burka or niqab to be contrary to French traditions of freedom and laws on women's rights. If such a declaration in the National Assembly had no effect, the President said, parliament could legislate in six months' time.

Mr Copé, the leader of the overwhelming UMP majority in the lower house of parliament, nonetheless told Le Figaro that he would publish a draft law within two weeks to, in effect, ban the burka. Once passed, he said, the law could be held in abeyance for six months to allow "discussions" with the Muslim community in France.

This is the latest of a series of acts of defiance by Mr Copé, who sees himself as a future successor to Mr Sarkozy. A parliamentary commission of inquiry into the wearing of the burka or niqab in France – set up last summer – will not publish its findings before the end of this month.

The ruling body of the main opposition party, the Parti Socialiste, said yesterday it was "totally opposed to the burka" which amounted to a "prison for women". But it announced, after a heated two-hour debate in its national executive, that a legal ban would be "counter-productive" and "opportunistic".

However Mr Copé can probably count on the support of a large majority of deputies from his own, and centrist and left-wing, opposition parties, when he presents his draft law to the assembly. The debate about the burka – and whether it is fundamentally contrary to French republican commitments to liberty and equality – was launched by a Communist member of parliament last June.

Some senior figures on the left have supported the idea of a legal ban. So has Fadela Amara, a left-wing campaigner for the rights of Muslim women who entered Mr Sarkozy's government in 2007 as Minister for Urban Development.

Most moderate Islamic leaders have sharply criticised the burka but suggested that it was such a limited phenomenon in France that legislation was unnecessary and might alienate moderate Muslims.

The burka, per se, is an Afghan tradition allowing a woman only a narrow gauze-covered eye-opening. It is little found in France. The Arab equivalent, the Niqab, which has a narrow opening at eye-level, is only slightly more common.

A study by the French internal security services last year suggested that the total number of women wearing both types of full body veil in France was around 2,000 – out of a total French population of adult, Muslim women of about 1,500,000.

Most of those women who wear full-length veils are below 30 years of age, the report said. Many had been influenced by radical forms of Islam; a substantial proportion were French women who had converted.

Yesterday the veteran far-right leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, also rejected the need for new legislation against the burka, perhaps surprisingly. He said that the existing French legal code already banned masks in public places. "All they need to do is apply the law," he said.

Mr Copé, in his interview with Le Figaro, said a specific ban was justified by security concerns – the need to oppose extremist forms of Islam – but also by an obligation to "protect and respect the rights of women".

He said his law would make it illegal to "hide the face in any place open to the public or on the public highway". "There will be a few cultural exceptions, such as carnivals, but we have not yet drawn up the list."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss