France Split Over Plan to Outlaw Burqa

June 20, 2009

Author: John Lichfield

Source: The Independent

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.