Is France Right to Ban the Veil?

The lower house of parliament overwhelmingly approves the ban

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The French National Assembly has voted 335 to 1, with 241 members abstaining, to publicly ban the face veil worn by many Muslim women in the country. The ban will now go to the upper chamber of parliament, where it is expected to pass by a similar margin, and will then be signed by President Nicolas Sarkozy, who supports it. The face veil, called the hijab or niqab depending on its form, is not to be confused with the burqa, which is a full body covering. Writers across the world are evaluating the French attempt to negotiate this complicated intersection between freedom, religion, and national identity. Is this the right step?

  • Ban Is Popular Across Western Europe The BBC reports, "The ban has strong public support but critics point out that only a tiny minority of French Muslims wear the full veil. ... The vote is being closely watched in other countries, the BBC's Christian Fraser reports from the French capital Paris. Spain and Belgium are debating similar legislation, and with such large-scale immigration in the past 20 or 30 years, identity has become a popular theme across Europe, our correspondent says."
  • It's All About Nationalism The BBC's Gavin Hewitt argues, "the main motive behind this vote was to reinforce French identity. MPs believe that those who live in, or visit, France should embrace French values. Time and again in parliament MPs argued that hiding a woman's face violates the ideal of equality and encourages segregation. The fear behind this is of separate, parallel communities. There are only about 2,000 women in France who wear the burka or niqab. Many are recent converts to Islam."
  • Law Will Face French, International Court Checks The L.A. Times' Alison Culliford reports, "Because of questions over the ban's constitutionality, the ruling Union for a Popular Movement party has agreed to send the eventual final version of the legislation to the Constitutional Council watchdog. A further challenge could occur from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. Amnesty International has said the law 'violates rights to freedom of expression and religion.'"
  • Religious Freedom Should Take Precedent Christian conservative blogger Rod Dreher writes: "I like that the imam of the Grand Mosque of Paris says that the burqa (niqab, etc.) has no place in Islam. ... But I also agree with the imam that the French state is not justified in compelling the relatively small number of Muslim women who wear the burqa to give it up. What are they hurting? I think their freedom of religion is more important, and it should be respected."
  • Dictating Clothing Is Wrong Freelance Canadian journalist Naheed Mustafa tweets, "Seriously, ask yourself this question: how would I feel if state dictated what I could wear? That's right, Muslim women feel the same way. Dictating to women what they can and can't wear is oppressive. Regardless of who does it. Full stop."
  • Will Full Burqa Bans Follow? The L.A. Times' Alexandra Sandels reports, "support for banning the burka is especially high in France, where a whopping 82% are in favor of outlawing it in public places such as schools, hospitals and government offices, while just 17% are opposed to such measures. But the study also indicates that the garment, which has been the subject of much heated debate and controversy in Europe, is becoming increasingly unpopular in Germany, Britain, and Spain, where 71%, 62% and 59%, respectively, of those surveyed endorsed burka bans similar to the proposed French law in their own countries. Americans, on the other hand, remain strongly opposed to such a law. Only 28% of those surveyed in the U.S. were in support of a burka ban while 65% disapproved."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.