The New French Fashion in Civil Rights

The French parliament wants to ban Muslim women from wearing the burqa – the full, face-covering garment worn by some orthodox believers – in public places. But, while no woman should be forced to cover herself up, nor, in a pluralist society, should anyone be forced not to.

NEW YORK – First the Swiss ban minarets. Now the French parliament wants to ban Muslim women from wearing the burqa – the full, face-covering garment worn in orthodox Arab countries, and now adopted by some orthodox non-Arabs – in public places. The hijab, the headscarf that some Muslim women wear, is already banned in French public schools, where the “ostentatious” display of any religious symbolism is forbidden. The burqa, however, is worn far more rarely in France – by about 1,900 of nearly six million Muslims, almost none of them from a traditional burqa-wearing country.

The reason why French parliamentarians, ranging from Communists to conservatives, support this ban is a general consensus that wearing the burqa is “contrary to the values of the Republic.” As the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, famously said, the burqa is “not welcome in France.”

Immigrants who cover their faces have been refused French citizenship for that reason. Feminists, including some women from Muslim backgrounds, have backed the ban, because they regard the custom as degrading. A Communist member of parliament, André Gerin, warned that terrorism and extremism were “hiding behind the veil.”

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