x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

French panel wants limits on burqa

A parliamentary report recommends a ban on wearing the burqa in public facilities and refuse residence to anyone with visible signs of "radical religious practice".

Women pictured in Marseilles on Christmas Eve wearing the full-length burqa.
Women pictured in Marseilles on Christmas Eve wearing the full-length burqa.

PARIS // A parliamentary panel that wants Muslim women to stop covering their faces today recommended that France ban the burqa in public facilities, including hospitals and mass transit, and refuse residence cards and citizenship to anyone with visible signs of a "radical religious practice". The nearly 200-page report contains a number of measures intended to dissuade women from wearing all-enveloping burqas in France. However, there is no call to outlaw such garments in private areas and in the street.

The 32-member, multiparty panel heeded warnings that a full ban risked being deemed unconstitutional and could even cause trouble in a country where Islam is the second-largest religion. The language in the report was carefully chosen in an effort to avoid offending France's estimated five million Muslims - the largest such population in western Europe - and accusations of discrimination. Muslim leaders have already complained that the debate over the full veil coupled with an ongoing debate on French national identity has left some Muslims feeling their religion is becoming a government target.

The panel failed to reach a consensus on whether any action was warranted, and what kind, despite universal agreement that burqas covering the face are not wanted in France. The report culminates a six-month inquiry into the burqa that began after President Nicolas Sarkozy said in June that they are "not welcome" on French territory. They are only worn by several thousand Muslim women who, most often, pin a niqab across their faces, hiding all but the eyes.

The burqa is widely viewed in France as a gateway to extremism, an insult to gender equality and an offence to France's secular foundation. A 2004 French law bans Muslim headscarves from primary and secondary school classrooms. As hearings proceeded, "it appeared to members of the panel that the wearing of the full-body veil threw out a challenge to our Republic. It is unacceptable," the report said.

Among its 18 proposals, the panel recommended modifying the code governing asylum and foreigners residing in France to ensure refusal of a resident card to those who "manifest a radical practice of their religion". A more drastic recommendation would refuse citizenship for "failure to assimilate" to those who "manifest a radical practice of their religion". It was not immediately clear whether the government, or parliament, would take up any or all of the report's recommendations.

Any action on the report would not come before the March regional elections. * AP