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Life Talk!

French President Sarkozy speaks out against burka



United Kingdom


Susan Sachs

Paris — From Tuesday's Globe and Mail, Monday, Jun. 22, 2009 09:40PM EDT

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Five years after outlawing Muslim head scarves in public schools, French lawmakers are taking aim at the face-covering niqab and burka, calling the garments an “ambulatory prison” for women.

On Monday, President Nicolas Sarkozy added his support to a resolution in the National Assembly that would open an inquiry into whether the state should prohibit women from wearing the garments outside their homes.

During a speech before both houses of parliament that was otherwise devoted to the economy, Mr. Sarkozy attacked the niqab as “a sign of subjugation, of degradation of women” that is not welcome in France.

He stopped short of endorsing an outright ban, as called for by one of the most prominent Muslim women in his cabinet.

But he said the issue should be debated openly, and made his own views clear. “We cannot accept in our country that women are prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social contact, deprived of all identity,” he said.

In the French secular tradition, public spaces – whether schools, government buildings or even the street – are supposed to be neutral zones where differences of religion and identity are not displayed.

Last year, for example, the country's highest administrative court refused to grant citizenship to a niqab-wearing Moroccan woman married to a Frenchman. The court said that wearing the garment, which often leaves only a slit for her eyes, demonstrated that the woman rejected French values.

While the burka debate is at an early stage, prominent Muslim leaders warned that any attempt to regulate how Muslims, or anyone else in France, can dress, could backfire and feed resentment among Muslims who already feel alienated.

The French Muslim Council said that even convening a special inquiry commission would “once again seriously stigmatize Islam and French Muslims.”

Dalil Boubakeur, the moderate head of the main Paris mosque, described the burka as a radical import that is alien to the tradition of Islam. But a debate over whether to outlaw it, he said, may inevitably create tensions by suggesting that Muslims have not or cannot integrate into French society.

The niqab is commonly worn by women in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, and more recently has been adopted by the fundamentalist Salafist movement in North Africa. In France, the word is often used interchangeably with burka, the tent-like garment with a mesh face cover that many Afghan women wear.



No particular incident involving French Muslims set off the demand for a study of the pros and cons of a ban on either garment. But one spark may have been a comment made by Mr. Sarkozy two weeks ago, during the D-Day commemorations in Normandy.

He said then that he agreed with U.S. President Barack Obama that the wearing of the Muslim head scarf poses no problem for Western societies if it represents a woman's free choice.

Critics said Mr. Sarkozy's remarks were a contradiction of French law, which prohibits the wearing of obvious religious symbols like the head scarf in public schools and by government employees who deal directly with the public.

A week later, a Communist deputy representing a suburban Lyon district introduced a resolution in the National Assembly calling the burka and other face-obscuring garments like the niqab a “degrading garment” that effectively negates a woman's citizenship.

More than 80 deputies have since signed on to the resolution to set up a parliamentary commission.

France has one of the largest Muslim populations in Europe, estimated at around 5 million people, mainly of North African origin. While women in head scarves are a common sight, the more extreme body-enveloping clothing is relatively new and much less widespread.

Its appearance has already caused alarm, however.

Unlike in Britain and Germany, where similar proposals have provoked fierce debate over freedom of religious choice, the French prohibition on head scarves in school has functioned with little controversy since its enactment in 2004.

Women's groups, led by Muslim activists, lobbied for the law as a way to protect girls who might be forced, by family or peer pressure, to wear the head scarf. The debate over the burka and niqab has taken similar shape.



We must not fight the wrong battle. In the republic, the Muslim faith must be respected as much as other religions
Nicolas Sarkozy,
French President



“Overall, the women who wear the burka, who have their very existence confiscated, are victims,” said Fadela Amara, the Secretary of State for Urban Affairs and an outspoken advocate of a ban.

The appearance of women covered in all-enveloping robes and with scarves covering all but their eyes, she has said, is a sign of “the concrete presence of fundamentalism on our soil.”

Ms. Amara, the daughter of Algerian immigrants, led the campaign to ban the wearing of the head scarf in schools when she was the head of a women's group, Ni Putes Ni Soumises, which works with Muslim women in the tough French housing projects.

Sihem Habchi, the woman who took Ms. Amara's place as president of the group, said France has since “let down its guard out of fear” and is allowing Muslim fundamentalism to threaten its secular ideals.

A parliamentary commission, she added, should broaden its investigation beyond the burka and look at the decisions made by some French cities, responding to pressure from Muslim groups, to provide separate facilities for men and women at public swimming pools and gyms.

But other commentators have been hesitant about legislating the type of clothing that can be worn in public. “It's an aggression against the dignity of women – symbolic, but an aggression nevertheless,” said Laurent Joffrin, editor of the leftwing newspaper, Libération. “But is this the way to deal with it?”

Special to The Globe and Mail




Any thoughts on this?


02:01 AM Jun 23 2009 |

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sorry, but  when my grandma came to Pakistan she was OBLIGED to cover her head!  where is the freedom of choice???????? and when i aked her  "why did u cover your head? she said- I had to wear it, otherwise  it will cause really negative consequences…. I don't talk about walking NAKED. nobody walk naked, except exhibitionist and nudists. But when e.g. i am in Saudi arabia and it is 40 degrees of hot- i don't wanna wear million of clothes and etc etc. I wanna wear shorts, mini and other summer things. i want to be free. Where is freedom sorry?????

Yes, maybe some european countries only shout about freedom, but in fact it is not…. But there is one thing that i can say exactly- there is no freedom in some muslim countries at all( for woman as a rule)

04:12 PM Jun 24 2009 |



The west pretend that it's free and have justice, but in the other hand, it doesn't permit and give the freedom to woman.




examples, please? 

05:18 PM Jun 24 2009 |



United Kingdom

There are no examples.

I find it hilarious that we're having Arabs from tinpot dictatorships and theocracies tell us what freedom is.

01:13 AM Jun 25 2009 |



United Kingdom

"But when e.g. i am in Saudi arabia and it is 40 degrees of hot- i don't wanna wear million of clothes and etc etc. I wanna wear shorts, mini and other summer things. i want to be free. Where is freedom sorry?????"


I agree with most of what you said before, but this is slightly different. When you go to someone else's country you should respect the rules.

If you go to Saudi Arabia, you don't walk around like that.

For something like that, it may be better to go somewhere else, like Italy, Spain, Greece or Israel.

03:17 AM Jun 25 2009 |




Gosh, Fabs! Looking at the second picture I m starting to understand what Sarkozy meant. Jeez, what the hell is that wrapped thing?? We really have to keep our kids off those. They have bad sleep after seeing that.

08:19 AM Jun 25 2009 |




What is better?

Beeing forced to wear hijab (like in Iran) or beeing forced to take off hijab (like in France)?

09:20 AM Jun 25 2009 |




What is better?

I know that one was rhetorical. But I somehow prefer when women take things off themselves.

09:47 AM Jun 25 2009 |



United Kingdom

Perhaps Sarkozy wants to distract people from the financial mess – collapsed banks, unemployment, etc, -  and how will he do that? Like many European leaders of course, he will attack immigrants or ethnic minorities – and make himself popular with the intolerant ignorant people (just goes to show how bad education is in the west that there are so many). Far right (racist) parties are very successful across Europe now, but Sarkozy's party was successful in the EU elections – probably because of his views like this one.

It's like that old imperialist attitude – white men saving black women from black men.  They never ask the women in this what they want. Arabhamid is right, muslim women aren't asking for this help. But I know in the UK when victims of domestic abuse ask for help, if they are not British citizens, they usually get no help at all.

I do sympathise with the view though, that western women have to adapt in some Islamic countries, so therefore shouldn't muslim women adapt in the west. But when the muslim women choose to wear these garments, and it isn't actually doing anyone any harm, is it worth criminalising them and causing further alienation of muslims? The next thing will be more riots in Paris, and they will wonder why?! I expect it would be very difficult for muslim women to not wear it, because they might feel vulnerable or 'naked'. This law might discourage them from leaving their homes, and that would affect their sense of freedom and independence.

11:42 AM Jun 25 2009 |





Where is the answer to my question?


did the Muslim women complained and asked the west to help them in islamic countries ?? sure not.

Some of them leave their country to get help (if they succeed) because they don't see any chance to get help in their own country like Ayaan Hirsi Ali.


so, why the west try to change our rules, even that is none of its buseniss ???

and what you say about western countries, who pretand freedom, and make laws against Islam ??

Like France? France/Sarkozy sees the freedom of woman and gender equality undercut by islamic rules like muslim dress code. Some of these women who obeye muslim dress codes live in France or want to live in France. In this case this is an issue that matters France of course. So France maybe is going to make new laws to protect itsself and the women who live in France.

But it's also possible that Sarkozy just wants to distinguish himself from Obama.

Who is "the west" and what is "our rules"? 

What is freedom vs. pretending freedom?


11:53 AM Jun 25 2009 |




Perhaps Sarkozy wants to distract people from the financial mess…blah-blah-blah

By the way, did your husband get in? I mean politically…

Why UK allow muslim women to wear Hijab at work and schools, and France prevents it ???

I would say to spite each other. Those guys have a long interesting history.

11:58 AM Jun 25 2009 |