Just two thousand of France’s female Muslims wear full-face Islamic veils but President Nicolas Sarkozy insists they must be banned as they are an affront to French values.
Sarkozy said last year that he wanted to outlaw the wearing of the niqab or burqa in public.
“We cannot accept to have in our country women who are prisoners behind netting, cut off from all social life, deprived of identity.”
That is not the idea that the French republic has of women’s dignity.
In 2004, France banned the Islamic headscarf and other religious symbols in public schools, triggering heated debate in the country and abroad.
One of the core principles of the Fifth Republic is secularism, the separation of church and state.
Justice Minsiter Michèle Alliot-Marie says the ban on the full veil will help immigrants adapt to the French way of life.
That is the view of one highly-influential Muslim feminist organisation, Neither Whores Nor Submissives. Its president,
Sihem Habchi, supports the ban.
“This has nothing to do with Islam, it is an archaic, and retrograde practice towards women,” she said. “We have made our position very clear a number of times. But, perversely, it is especially exploited by the far-right to create a sort of confusion, to tell people one cannot distinguish between fanatics and Muslims.”
The proposal has divided France’s five million-strong Muslim community. While some support Habchi’s views, others argue it is a cynical ploy to stoke Islamaphobia and an attack on freedom of religion.
France divided over Muslim veils