French committee calls for curbs on veil

Opposition Socialist Party boycotts panels vote on the report
Last Updated 26 January 2010, 16:58 IST

A report from the panel said that lawmakers were unable to unanimously agree to an outright ban “at this stage,” even though many favoured one.
The report, however, called for legislation to ban the covering of the face in public services. Presenting the report, members of the panel suggested that this could include hospitals, public transport, schools, post offices and even banks — areas where identification is important.

Instead of recommending a total ban of the veil, the report from the 32-member panel, which crossed party lines, said the Council of State, a body which provides the executive with legal advice and acts as a court of last resort, should examine whether legislation should be introduced.

Lionnel Luca, a lawmaker from the governing centre-right party and a member of the panel, said the report was a “missed opportunity.”
“We will study the issue, we will have a resolution — that’s all great,” he said after the release of the 280-page document. “But what we really need is a clear text that outlaws the burqa.”
“We need to go further and we need the political will. At the moment I don’t see that,” he said.

The opposition Socialist Party boycotted the panel’s vote on the report because the issue had become embroiled in a simultaneous debate on national identity initiated by President Nicolas Sarkozy. Luca said only 14 members of the commission voted — eight for and six against.

The report was the culmination of an inquiry into the wearing of all-enveloping burqas, a full-length garment with a grill over the eyes, that began after President Sarkozy said in June that the burqa was “not welcome” on French territory. Sarkozy called for a resolution by lawmakers condemning veils, to be followed by a debate on legislation.
The panel’s findings were also directed at the niqab, which leaves the eyes uncovered.
Critics of the veils have described them as a tool of extremism, a hindrance to women’s rights and an affront to France’s cherished secularity. But the debate raised concerns about the constitutionality of state mandates on dress and the possibility of aggravating tensions among France’s Muslims, many of whom feel alienated and excluded from social and economic progress.
The New York Times

(Published 26 January 2010, 16:58 IST)

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