French National Assembly Bans Burqas
French MPs Vote Overwhelmingly in Favor of Burqa Ban
France's National Assembly has voted to ban the wearing of face-covering veils in public places, by a margin of 335 to one. Under the law, the wearer of a burqa faces a fine, as do husbands and fathers who force women to wear the full-body veils. The law now goes before France's Senate, where it is expected to pass, and become law by next year.
France is not the first European country to enact such a ban (Belgium has banned all face-covering clothing in public), but is home to Europe's largest Muslim minority. The law, if passed and subsequently overturned, would be a boost to fundamentalist groups who would claim that expat Muslims are being unfairly stigmatized.
The bill has wide support, from the general public as well as from women's rights groups.
Burka Ban Could Be Unconstitutional
Aside from accusations that the ban is pandering to right-wing voters, the bill could be ruled unconstitutional by France's Constitutional Council, as well as under European Union law, as a human rights and religious freedom issue.
Under the new law, women who wear face-covering veils in all public places in France, including the street, face being fined 150-euro (£125) or ordered to follow citizenship classes, or both.
Life in France is "carried out with a bare face", Michele Alliot-Marie, the justice minister, said last week as she opened the debate in the National Assembly.
Face-covering veils "call into question the idea of integration, which is founded on the acceptance of the values of our society", Alliot-Marie said.
While the wearing of face-covering veils is relatively rare among French Muslims (one Al-Jazeera correspondent cites 2,000 wearers), some fear that the ban will add to the existing stigma on the whole group.
The main body representing French Muslims says face-covering veils are not required by Islam and not suitable in France, but it worries that the law will stigmatise Muslims in general.