French Muslim minister: The burqa is a prison
July 17, 2008 News Summary
ReligionNewsBlog.com • Thursday July 17, 2008
French Muslim minister: The burqa is a prison
“The burqa is a prison, it’s a straight jacket,” Urban Affairs Minister Fadela Amara, herself a practising Muslim who was born in France to Algerian parents, said in an interview in Le Parisien newspaper on Wednesday.
“It is not a religious insignia but the insignia of a totalitarian political project that advocates inequality between the sexes and which is totally devoid of democracy.”
France’s top administrative court, the state council, on June 27 rejected the citizenship request on the grounds that the woman’s Muslim practises were incompatible with French laws on secularism and gender equality.
Amara said the ruling might “dissuade certain fanatics from imposing the burqa on their wives”.
The Moroccan woman, identified only as 32-year-old Faiza M, turned up for interviews to discuss her application accompanied by her husband and wearing the long veil “with only her eyes visible through an opening”, according to the government officials quoted by the newspaper.
Amara, a women’s rights campaigner who joined President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government in 2007, said she made no distinction between the veil and the burqa.
French applaud decision to deny woman citizenship over veil
PARIS — Politicians, feminists and some Muslim leaders here are applauding a court decision to deny citizenship to a Muslim woman from Morocco whose French husband requires her to completely cover her face and body.
The Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, said the woman’s acquiescence to the veil showed her failure to assimilate and demonstrated behaviour “incompatible with the essential values of the French community and, notably, the principle of equality of the sexes.”
The decision was hailed across the political spectrum, from the leftist Socialists to the far-right National Front, despite their long-standing divisions over whether the state should get involved in regulating private religious or cultural practices.
One of the strongest endorsements came from Fade’la Amara, the Algerian-born junior minister for urban affairs and a founder of a Muslim women’s group, Ni Putes Ni Soumises (with translates as the provocative Neither Whores Nor Submissives), that fought successfully to ban the veil in French public schools four years ago.
The ruling was “a springboard for the emancipation and freedom of women,” Ms. Amara said in an interview published Wednesday in the newspape Le Parisien.
Like the veil, the niqab is a coercive means to oppress women, she added. “It’s not a sign of religiosity, but the visible expression of a totalitarian position.”
Case of fully veiled woman roils France
PARIS – The case started quietly, when a Muslim woman who sheaths herself in a head-to-toe veil was denied French citizenship because she had not assimilated enough into this society. France’s highest body upheld the decision, and politicians across the spectrum agreed it was the right move.
A few dissenting voices, though, are now questioning whether the decision pushed France’s secularist values too far.
“Where does it begin or end? What we are calling radical behavior?” asked Mohammed Bechari, president of the National Federation of French Muslims. “Will we see a man refused citizenship because of the length of his beard … or a man who is dressed as a rabbi, or a priest?”
On June 27, France’s highest administrative body, the Council of State, ruled that the woman, identified only as Faiza X, had “adopted a radical practice of her religion incompatible with the essential values of the French community, notably with the principle of equality of the sexes, and therefore she does not fulfill the conditions of assimilation” listed in the country’s Civil Code as a requirement for gaining French citizenship.
The council said the decision to refuse her citizenship did not aim to “attack (her) freedom of religion.”
But critics accuse the French justice system of breeding fear and intolerance of Islam under the guise of upholding secularism. The country is home to western Europe’s largest Muslim population, estimated to be at least 5 million of the nation’s 63 million people — and growing.
French officialdom has struggled to instill secular traditions in Muslim immigrant communities, passing a law in 2004 barring the Islamic headscarf and other highly visible religious symbols from public schools. Proponents of that law welcomed the decision denying citizenship to Faiza X, who wears a niqab, or full-body veil, to her meetings with immigration officials.
The terms burqa and niqab are often used interchangeably in France, though the former refers to a full-body covering worn largely in Afghanistan with only a mesh screen over the eyes.
The council’s ruling did not refer to Faiza’s niqab, which she said she adopted after arriving in France from her native Morocco, according to a report from a government commissioner to the Council.
The woman told immigration officials that she did not know anything about secularism or her right to vote, according to the commissioner’s report. All the immigration officials handling her case were women. They asked her to remove her veil to identify herself, which she did only when no men were in the room, the report said.
Later, in a letter to immigration officials, the woman defended her lifestyle by noting that other immigrants granted French citizenship also maintain “ties with their culture of origin.”
The woman and her husband told immigration officials that they adhere to Salafism, a strict strain of Islam.
Her statements to immigration officials indicate that “she leads a life almost of a recluse, cut off from French society,” leaving the house only to walk with her children or visit relatives, the report said.
“She lives in total submission to the men in her family … and the idea of contesting this submission doesn’t even occur to her,” the government report said.
The appearance of women in face-concealing veils in immigrant neighbourhoods has alarmed some French Muslim leaders.
Abdelalai Mamoun, an imam in the suburb where the Moroccan woman lived, told a Paris newspaper that women who voluntarily veil themselves “are rejecting the system” and should emigrate to Muslim countries.
Others worried that the case would increase prejudice against Muslims in general. A court decision last month, annulling the marriage of two French Muslims because the bride had lied about being a virgin, raised similar concerns.
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