France split over plan to outlaw burqa

Racial unrest feared over new law, which goes further than ban on headscarves

A suggestion that the full-length veil, or burqa, might be outlawed in France split the French government down the middle yesterday.

The government's official spokesman, Luc Chatel, said that legislation might be introduced to ban full-length veils if it was proved that they were being "imposed" on Muslim women against their will.

However, the Immigration Minister, Eric Besson, said legal action would "create unnecessary and unwelcome tensions" and re-open the anguished dispute which surrounded the decision in 2004 to ban Islamic headscarves, and other religious symbols, from state schools in France.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, speaking after the EU summit in Brussels, said he would address the subject in public on Monday but warned against surrendering to "emotional" arguments.

Just like the headscarf debate, a dispute over the wearing of the full-length veil has scrambled the normal political boundaries between right and left and has divided France's 4 to 5 million-strong Muslim community. The debate was re-opened by, of all people, President Barack Obama, who said in his speech in Cairo last week that Western nations should not impede the practice of Islam within their frontiers.

This comment was endorsed by M. Sarkozy but criticised by some French politicians, of both right and left, as an attack on France's "headscarf law". André Gerin, a Communist MP who represents a poor, multiracial area in the suburbs of Lyons, tabled a motion this week calling for a commission of inquiry into what he said was an explosion in the number of women wearing full-length veils in France. He said that this was a "direct response" to President Obama's remarks.

At first, M. Gerin's proposal seemed likely to go nowhere but his action was praised on Thursday by Fadela Amara, a left-wing crusader for Muslim women's rights who joined the centre-right French government in 2007. Ms Amara, Minister for Urban Renewal, said she was "in favour of the total prohibition in France of the burqa ... this coffin which kills the fundamental rights of women."

She added: "You only have to go to certain markets, such as in the suburbs of Lyons, to see that there are more and more women wearing the burqa ... These are women who are the prey of oppression, from masculine domination to fundamentalistic Islamic indoctrination."

In a radio interview yesterday, M. Chatel said he supported the idea of an official inquiry. "If it emerged that the wearing of the burqa was imposed [on women], and therefore contrary to our Republican principles, parliament would naturally have to draw the appropriate conclusions."

Asked if this might mean a law, he said: "Why not?"

Such a law might be even more controversial than the head-scarf legislation of 2004. That law applied only to children and teachers in state schools and employees in public buildings. It banned not just head scarves but Catholic crucifixes and Jewish kippas. The suggested new law would ban the wearing of the full-length veil anywhere in public.

M. Besson, another left-wing politician who was persuaded by President Sarkozy to join his government, said a legal ban would be "ineffective" and counter-productive, stirring up racial and religious tensions and reinforcing a sense of persecution among some Muslim communities.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
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

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam