On Tuesday, Sept. 14, France’s senate voted for a law that would ban the public wearing of full-body burqas (also called burkas or nijabs) with face veils. The vote was 246 to 1.
The Senate’s reasons for the burqa ban are three-fold:
-To maintain France’s secular state (being one of the most non-religious countries in the Western world aids in the country’s neutrality);
-To protect Muslim women from abuse and ensure gender equality;
-To provide additional security measures by being able to identify those behind the burqas.
France’s house (the lower Parliament chamber) voted in favor of a burqa ban in July. After that vote, according to Voice of America News (VOA), a spokesperson for the Council on American-Islamic Relations considered the ban to be discrimination against Muslims.
This statement is contradicted by the fact that France already has a ban on many faiths’ religious wear in schools and some other public places, including Judaism, Christianity and Sikh.
In addition, the VOA report confirms information from a counter-terrorism expert that the face-covering veils, which make someone’s physical identity and attributes impossible to detect, do pose a security threat in public places.
A Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project Poll found that, among French citizens, the majority of both those on the right (87 percent) and the left (75 percent) support a ban on wearing full veils in public. The poll also showed majorities in Britain, Germany and Spain would support a ban of this type in their own country.
The human rights and religious rights debate:
Americans polled did not support the ban on burqas. This could be because of our extreme sensitivity to tolerance and human rights. However, what some Americans may not take into account is that many Muslim women are forced to wear the attire against their will. France’s government is taking into consideration that the wearing of the full veil and robe actually takes away a Muslim woman’s right to dress as she may please.
Because of this possibility, the French senate also approved of imposing a stiff fine and a one-year jail sentence on men who are discovered to be forcing their women to wear the attire, or punishing them for not wearing it. This would only take place if the ban actually becomes law.
Speculation holds that if this ban is passed in France, it may set a precedent in the free world against the public wearing of religious garb or accessories, including Christian crosses and Jewish stars of David.
But a crucifix, a yarmulke (Jewish men’s skullcap), a turban or women’s headwear such as the Mennonite ladies’ lace hair coverings do not hide one’s identity.
What about criminals using burqas as disguises: Is it really a woman under there?
Burqas may provide cover to criminals or terrorists of any ilk who want to plant bombs in public places or even rob a bank. Is it really a woman under there? Who would know? And even if it is a woman, can authorities see if she’s been strapped with a suicide bomb?
Most surveys estimate the French Muslim population to be anywhere from 5 million to 6 million people (BBC, Guardian.uk). In the criminal regard, France has a lot of burqas to worry about.
“French senate approves burqa ban,” CNN Wire Staff, 9/14/10.
“France: Senate votes for Muslim face veil ban,” Lizzy Davies, Guardian, 9/14/10.
French Burqa Vote Stirs Strong Reaction, David Byrd, Voice of America News, 7/16/10.
“Widespread Support for Banning Full Islamic Veil in Western Europe,” Pew Research Center Global Attitude Poll, 7/8/10.
Muslims in Europe: Country guide, BBC, 12/23/05.
“Reacting to France’s ban: headscarves and other religious attire in American public schools,”Derek H. Davis, Journal of Church and State, Spring 2004.