HOW likely are French parliamentarians to approve the proposed “burqa ban”? Deputies get their first chance to debate the idea in parliament on Tuesday May 11th. As a first step, the National Assembly will examine a resolution, which carries symbolic value, but not legal force. Yet it will be a good test of the political mood. It is likely to be approved with thunderous cross-party support.
French backing for a burqa ban across the political spectrum is sometimes hard to understand. In many multicultural quarters of Europe, the idea is linked to the extreme or nationalist right. In Britain, for instance, the only party proposing a total burqa ban during the recent general-election campaign was the United Kingdom Independence Party, which also wants to pull the country out of the European Union. The far-right British National Party also called for a burqa ban in schools. One Labour minister replied that it was “not British” to tell people what to wear in the street. In a speech in Cairo last year, President Barack Obama argued that Western countries should not be “dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear”.
In France, however, the proposal draws backing from the mainstream left and right. President Nicolas Sarkozy, from the political right, said last year that the burqa, as the French call it (in reality, they mean the niqab, or all-over face-covering veil), was “not welcome” on French soil. Jean-François Copé, the leader of the ruling UMP party in parliament, has been the most active in pushing for a total ban (The Economist interviewed Mr Copé last week). Yet the idea is also backed by politicians of all stripes, including the Communist head of a parliamentary inquiry into a ban, and various leading Socialists.
One reason for this is France’s tradition of laïcité, a strict form of secularism, enshrined by law since 1905, and which keeps religion out of public institutions. At the time, the anti-clericalism behind the movement was largely inspired by the political left, and this legacy informs much left-wing thinking on secular matters today. When the French right proposed a ban on the headscarf (and other “conspicuous” religious symbols) in state schools in 2004, for example, the left voted massively in favour. The Socialist Party is expected to vote in favour of this week’s parliamentary resolution.更多信息请访问：http://www.24en.com/
Unlike the headscarf ban, however, the upcoming law against the wearing of the burqa is not couched in terms of secularism. When a ban was first mooted, it was assumed that the legal basis for it would be French laïcité. Politicians soon realised, though, that to use this argument would be to accept that the burqa is a religious prescription of Islam. Most Muslim opinion-makers in France, including the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), an official body, and female Muslim ministers, such as Fadela Amara, reject this. The CFCM has clearly stated its “opposition to the practice on national territory”, although it also argues that a ban would stigmatise Islam.
Instead, the French are considering two grounds for outlawing the burqa, each of which—unlike laïcité—could potentially be applied in other countries. One is security, and the need to be identifiable at all times. The other is “dignity” and “equality between men and women”. Although very few women in France cover their faces—no more than 2,000, according to official estimates—it is a new trend. Politicians and researchers say that the wearing of the headscarf by French Muslims, many of whom are of North African origin where there is no tradition of covering the face, is a sign of manipulation by hardline Islamic radicals keen to test the French state. The French are unapologetic about wanting to reassert “the values of the republic” by going ahead with a ban.
How it would be applied in practice remains unclear. As it is, the Conseil d’Etat, the highest administrative court, has expressed worries about the legal grounds for a ban. If passed, Mr Copé says that it will apply not only to French Muslims, but to visitors from the Middle East too. Would such women be fined while doing their shopping on the Champs-Elysées? How can the government be sure that a woman is wearing the burqa under orders from her menfolk? Would it not lead to their further isolation, as they felt unable to venture out of the home? If that were indeed the upshot, it would be paradoxical for a law designed in part to ensure equality for women.