Paris: French lawmakers will on Tuesday debate
whether to ban the full-face Islamic veil in public, in the
country with Europe`s biggest Muslim community.
The proposed law would make it illegal to cover the face
anywhere in public and impose fines of 150 euros on those
caught wearing a full veil, which President Nicolas Sarkozy
has described as degrading to women.
Legal authorities have warned the so-callled burqa ban
may be unconstitutional and critics have opposed it as a
divisive measure that discriminates against Muslims.
Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, who is presenting
the bill, said she hoped for a "consensus," insisting the law
was not exclusively aimed at Muslim women, of whom only a few
hundred are believed to wear the veil in France.
"The law is not about the veil, but about deliberately
covering the face in any way," she was quoted as saying by the
"It is not a question of religion," she said. "The
republic lives with its face uncovered."
After months of public wrangling, the National Assembly
lower house was to start debating the bill today evening. It
is to hold a vote on July 13 and if passed it will then got to
the Senate in September.
Legal experts warn the broad scope of the law banning the
veil in all public places instead of just in state
institutions could be struck down by the constitutional court.
Similar laws are pending in Belgium and Spain, but the
ban is particularly sensitive in France.
Muslim leaders fear it will stoke tensions by
stigmatising France`s estimated five to six million Muslims,
many of whom live in volatile city 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
Fillon said Muslims who wear face coverings such as the
niqab and burqa 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."
Fewer than 2,000 women wear the full-face veil in France,
according to the interior ministry.
To avoid tensions, the law would give police leeway to
waive penalties and instead order offenders to enroll in a
"citizenship course" to better understand French secularism.
Men who force their wives or daughters to wear the full
veil face a 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.
French politicians have said the law will also apply to
tourists from the Middle East and the Gulf who are often seen
fully veiled in luxury shops on the Paris boulevards.