France: Burka ban proposal, minarets again in the spotlight

France: Burka ban proposal, minarets again in the spotlight

In a related story, the Austrian Social Democratic (SPÖ) Women’s Minister Gabriele Heinisch-Hosek said she supports a ban on burkas, should burkas become a problem in Austria.

"I consider the burka as a sign of the submission of women. It greatly hinders women from finding jobs in the labour market. If more women wearing burkas appear in Austria, I will test a ban on them and enact administrative fines for women wearing them in public buildings," she said. (EN)

The Social Democrats had previously rejected such a ban.


The identity debate is heating up in France.

Nora Berra a Muslim Minister of State, claims that Pascal Clement, the former justice minister, said that "the day when there are as many minarets as there are cathedrals in France, it won't be France any more". Nora Berra says Clement's words are a new anti-Muslim generalization. When we speak of the burka, she says, we're not speaking of Muslims.

Pascal Clement, on the other hand, denies he ever says it, and that he actually said that people should be free to worship in decent houses of prayer, but that minarets are governed by the planning codes that are the result of French history and cultural identity. Clement said on France 3 that once you talk about minarets, you become a racist. He added that Berra was the one who made up the statement.

However, Nora Berra was not the only one shocked by Clement's words. Minister of State Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet also left the room. (FR)

For more stories about the French identity debate:

* France: Young Muslims shouldn't speak slang, says minister
* France: Religious demands discussed in parliament
* France: No citizenship for 'burqa husbands', says justice minister
* France: Muslims must be discreet about faith


The French ruling party of President Nicolas Sarkozy now affirms it will present a bill to ban full-length Islamic veils in all public places in France. It won't wait for the results of a parliamentary inquiry into the all-covering niqab and burqa to be published. The move adds fuel to an increasingly hot debate on French identity that has minorities here upset.


The UMP effort to outlaw the full-length veil in public trumps earlier efforts to ban it only in some official buildings, and comes at a time when French Muslims say they are being targeted as outsiders or not fully French.

Yet UMP party leader Jean-François Cope yesterday said veils that cover a woman’s entire face are a “violation of individual liberty” and a “negation” of one’s identity and that of others in a public milieu.

Under the proposed law, women would not be able to move in public with their faces fully covered. The legal rendering is that burqas and all-covering niqabs are a public order issue, and not a religious practice issue - as is the French ban on headscarves in schools, which has been carried out to uphold French secularism, known as laïcité.

Offenders wearing veils would receive a fine – though lawmakers now say there will be a period of mediation following the initial charge.


The UMP launched the identity debate at a time when many French argue that social and ethnic tensions are being ignored. The concept of the discussion was at first welcomed by such figures on the left as Ségolène Royal, presidential candidate of the Socialist party in 2007.

Yet racial overtones and slurs among French UMP politicians and ordinary French during the identity debate – combined with a vaguely anti-Muslim echo effect here after the Swiss vote on minarets – has left many French intellectuals and analysts charging that the discussion is poorly conceived. One small town mayor on France 2 TV in the identity debate described France as possibly being “gobbled up” by “them.”

During the closed UMP discussion Tuesday, a lawmaker stated that "the day when there are as many minarets as there are cathedrals in France, it won't be France any more." The comment reportedly caused female Muslim UMP member, Nora Berra, to storm out of the meeting, slamming the door behind her.

On Europe 1 radio today Ms. Berra stated that she feels the dynamics of the burqa issue, and the identity debate, appear to target ethnic and religious groups and, as such, are violations of France’s sacred civic principle of laïcité, which forbids any public religious expression or targeting of citizens on religious grounds.


Source: CS Monitor (English)

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