French `burqa ban` goes before Parliament

Mirroring moves in Belgium and Spain, lawmakers in France begin debate this week on a bill aimed at banning the full-face Islamic veil in the country with Europe`s biggest Muslim minority.

Paris: Mirroring moves in Belgium and
Spain, lawmakers in France begin debate this week on a bill
aimed at banning the full-face Islamic veil in the country
with Europe`s biggest Muslim minority.

The legislation would make it illegal to wear the
face-covering veil anywhere in public and impose fines of USD
190 dollars to women caught in attire that President Nicolas
Sarkozy has described as degrading to women.

The debate opening Tuesday at the National Assembly
caps months of public wrangling over a move that is fraught
with risk.

Legal experts warn the broad scope of the law banning
the veil in all public places as opposed to state institutions
could be struck down by the constitutional court.

Muslim leaders fear it will stoke tensions by
stigmatising France`s estimated five to six million Muslims,
many of whom live in the volatile suburbs.

Defending the move, Prime Minister Francois Fillon
made the rare gesture of inaugurating a mosque in a Paris
suburb last week, drinking mint tea and eating dates with
Muslim leaders.

Fillon said Muslims who wear face coverings are
"hijacking Islam" by providing a "dark and sectarian image" of
the religion that is "the opposite of the French Islam that
you have contributed to build."

That message has been well-received by most Muslims
in France who see the burqa or the niqab as foreign to their
religious practices, but still, the debate has stirred
resentment over what is seen as a fringe phenomenon.

Fewer than 2,000 women wear the full-face veil in
France, according to the interior ministry.

The bill, set to go to the Senate in September for
a final vote, would make it illegal for reasons of security
for anyone to cover their face in public.

To avoid stoking tensions, the law would however
give police some leeway to waive penalties and instead order
offenders to enroll in a "citizenship course" to better
understand French secularism.

Husbands who force their wives or daughters to wear
the full veil face a hefty fine of up to 30,000 euros and a
one-year jail term, according to the draft legislation.

No penalties will be applied in the first six
months after its adoption.

PTI