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Veil Ban in France
|by K. Gajendra Singh|
A Symptom of Growing Christian-Muslim Chasm, Post 9/11
Note; Less than 2,000 women of France’s 5 million Muslims (in France’s total population of over 62 million) are thought to wear the full-length veil. Many seen in Paris are Saudi tourists riding in limousines from luxury hotels to the expensive boutiques on Champd’ Elysee, Place Vendome or in Galeries Lafayette.
On Monday, 11 April, 2011, two veiled or burqa-wearing women were arrested outside the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, not for wearing a burqa/veil but for disturbing the peace in protest about the burqa law. One face-covered woman arrested is a convert named Kenza Drider, who took a train in the morning from Avignon to protest in Paris, accompanied by numerous journalists.
It was the first day of enforcing a nine-page police circular or anti-burqa law i.e. new rules against wearing a face-hiding garment in public. It carries a fine of Euros 150 for offenders. It remains to be seen how strictly this law will be implemented. The law stipulates that husbands found forcing their wives to wear the burqa in public be fined sums ranging from30,000 to 60,000 Euros. The police circulars spell out the methods of arrest.
If on demand from the police a covered woman does not remove her veil for an identity check, she risks a fine, or, alternatively, a citizenship training course. Police then tell the woman that she can be taken to a police station to check her identity. If she still refuses, the police are advised to summon a magistrate, the French equivalent of a US district attorney.
The law was enacted last October 11 after a rancorous and divisive debate with opposition from lawmakers on both the French left and the right. The left described it as the dehumanization of women; the right claimed it dealt a sign of lack of cultural assimilation and possible security related problems by those wearing a face-covering mask. But the law demanded that the citizens should show their faces as a matter of French values of openness. The burqa law is being enforced after 14 months of heated political debate and a 6 months grace period.
It also came into effect a week after a “national debate” on Islam and secularism in France led by the ruling party of President Nicolas Sarkozy. But even the prime minister and many leading lights of his party dissented or refused to participate. France’s main religious groups had declared on March 31 in a blunt joint letter that the debate threatened to “stigmatize” Muslims and one of the world’s major faiths.
Many believe that the new “law is part of a new right-leaning symbolic political language in France and elsewhere in Europe that appeals to mainstream voters – underlining that a traditional sense of European identity and culture applies to all members of society, including larger numbers of Muslims” according to Christian Science Monitor.
Viv Groskop in the Guardian quoted Jean-Francois Copé, leader of Sarkozy's UMP party, that the ban has the support of 74% of the population. But if one reads the comment on French news websites, France is divided. Granted, many support the ban. But as one commentator writes:
"This is France. Live by French laws." But equal numbers voice the idea that this ban violates "the basic French principle of liberty".
Christopher Hitchens believes that many of Europe’s so-called “multi-cultural authorities” treat the most militant voices amongst Muslim communities as the de facto voices of the entire community –thereby alienating the moderates, who are almost always in the majority. But it seems that Sarkozy, in his fierce defense of French-style secularism against the “unstoppable” encroachments of Islam, is not simply being politically expedient? As so many commentators have said that the Sarkozy’s new law is primarily a political maneuver to appease France’s resurgent Right and improve his standing in the polls (very low now) before the 2012 elections.
Hitchens concludes that the “Islamist threat itself may be crude, but this is an intricate cultural and political challenge that will absorb all of our energies for the rest of our lives: we are all responsible for doing our utmost as citizens as well as for demanding more imagination from our leaders.”
[Many political analysts on international affairs believe that Sarkozy took the lead in promoting the so called ‘humanitarian intervention‘ in Libya, for a Crusade like Euro-US led NATO bombing of Libya, to improve his re-election chances. Apart from getting a pie along with US and some EU states of the oil resources in west Libya under the wobbly and fluctuating control of ragtag groups of rebels, Al Qaeda types and opportunists. Paris was the first to recognize the unknown and undefined rebels outfit. The results for both the cases might be just the opposite]
Memories of Crusades and Jihads
Crusades and Jihads are engraved in the historic memories of Europe and the Islamic world in the Middle East and North Africa. Till 17th century Ottomans arms were knocking at the Gates of Vienna, an event repeatedly recalled by political parties in Europe to keep Turkey out of the Europe Union, even by French leaders. While south European countries have populations from their former colonies in North Africa, millions of poor Turks were invited by Germany in 1960s and 70s to fill the shortage of labor for its booming economy. Thus a complex relationship exists between Christians and Muslims in Europe and neighboring Muslim countries.
Religious worship places, holy books, other symbols and rituals have brought out the differences between Islam and Christianity. Scientific socialism in USSR and east Europe had kept the monster of religious extremism dormant, but following the Fall of the Berlin Wall and US led rampant policies against or without UNSC approval to control Muslim lands and its energy resources, training up to even a hundred thousand Muslim extremists like Al Qaeda, Taliban and other Jihadis have provided the Muslims a tool to fight the West and for the US regimes far away to use it as a pretext for violating international law abroad and national law at home. The simmering tensions between Christianity and Islam in Europe and later in USA itself are likely to get worse and could easily explode.
Apart from differences and tensions caused over building of new mosques, respect for Quran and Prophet Mohammad and dispute over symbols, countries across Europe have wrestled with the issue of the Muslim veil - in various forms such as the body-covering burka and Hijab/Naqab which covers the face apart from the eyes. In recent history, the veil or hijab has been used to make political statements, even in Muslim countries such as Algeria, Iran, Afghanistan and Turkey.
2004 French ban on Muslim head scarves
A ban on Muslim headscarves and other "conspicuous" religious symbols at state schools was introduced in 2004, and received overwhelming political and public support in a country where the separation of state and religion is enshrined in law. But after a lot of drama including abduction of French journalists by militants in Iraq to upturn the proposed ban, and despite the hostage crisis, France enforced the law banning Islamic head scarves and other religious symbols from public schools. It was generally peacefully implemented, with a nationwide show of unity including Muslims, against the militants' demands. The head scarf is normally worn in schools, especially in poorer areas, by Muslim girls. Many Sikh students wearing patka (head scarves) were also not allowed to enter classes in Paris on September 2. Sikh community leaders took up the matter with the authorities. This was even discussed with President Sarkozy when he visited India early last year.
The law to ban head scarves was enacted following a December, 2003 report on church-state relations in France, which recommended a ban on "conspicuous" religious symbols in public schools, including head scarves worn by Muslim girls, yarmulkes worn by Jewish boys and large crosses worn by Christians. The report, which suggested other measures to reiterate France's fiercely secular constitution, was written by a 20-member commission made up of religious leaders, teachers, politicians and sociologists. It said that the 1905 law that codified the strict separation of church and state was no longer adequate given the cultural and religious composition of present-day France. The report charged, for example, that organized groups were testing the secular French state by demands on public services in the name of religion and pressuring Muslims to identify first with their faith and then with their citizenship.
A ruling in 1989 by France's Council of State that religious symbols could not be worn in public schools if they constituted "an act of intimidation, provocation, proselytizing or propaganda, threatened health, security or the freedom of others, or disturbed order" was modified three years later, leaving much discretion to the schools.
Veil and other EU Countries
According to a BBC report, complied on the banning of the veil in Europe, the lower house of Belgium's parliament has already passed a bill to ban clothing that hides a person's identity in public places but the bill still needs approval in the Senate. It has broad cross-party support, though the Greens oppose it. The law would outlaw the use of garments such as the hijab and the burka. Currently, the burka is banned in several districts under old local laws originally designed to stop people masking their faces completely at carnival time. In Antwerp, for example, police can now reprimand, or even imprison, offenders. Though no national ban exists in Spain, the city of Barcelona has announced a ban on full Islamic face-veils in some public spaces such as municipal offices, public markets and libraries.
So it is in two smaller towns in Catalonia to ban any head-wear that impeded identification, including motorbike helmets and balaclavas, rather than religious belief. There is no ban on Islamic dress in the UK, but schools are allowed to prescribe their own dress code after a 2007directive which followed several high-profile court cases.
Veil in Turkey
At the other end of the European continent, secular Turkey has been down the road of banning religious dress. Ottoman and Islamic dresses, including head scarves, have been forbidden in public places since the establishment of the Republic of Turkey by Kemal Ataturk in 1923. Ataturk abolished the caliphate, closed religious seminaries, converted the Mosque Aaya Sofya into a museum, banned Islamic dress, including the Turkish fez, veil or hijab, including the head scarf.
Opposition to the ban, earlier led by a small minority, is now being spearheaded by the ruling Islamizing Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has been in power since November, 2002. It is a serious cause of simmering tensions, sometimes reaching boiling point between the ruling party and the secular elite led by the judiciary, armed forces and intelligencia.
While in France it is basically a Muslim minority which is against the ban, in Turkey perhaps a majority (led by the male population, other than in the big cities) might favor head scarves. While Ataturk might have put the Turks in trousers and jackets, the thinking, especially in the countryside, is still conservative.
After the election of AKP foreign minister Abdullah Gul as the first ever Islamist president of the Turkish republic in 2007, the government annulled the ban on Muslim hijab/turban in public places in February, 2008.
Lifting of Ban Annulled
On 5 June 2008, Turkey's Constitutional Court annulled the parliament's proposed amendment to lift the headscarf ban, ruling that removing the ban was against the founding principles of the constitution. The highest court's decision to uphold the headscarf ban cannot be appealed. But the wives of AKP leaders wear turbans or scarves covering their heads.
At the banquet for Abdullah Gul in New Delhi in February, 2010, the wives of the AKP leaders and the ladies accompanying them had their heads covered except a few. (They were from the security)
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