UPDATES on Wednesday: Here are links to some of the best commentary on the Gerin Report from today’s papers: Raphael Liogier in the Guardian locates the partial ban within a broader crisis of French identity. The Financial Times calls the partial ban an example of ‘Republican bigotry‘ while the NYT claims that ‘the Taliban would applaud’ the French proposals. There is mention of a ‘pro-veil’ attack at a Paris mosque and discussion of splits within the Commission in the Times. The Independent also discusses the lack of French unity on the burqa question and the Christian Science Monitor discusses political strategising around Muslim women’s dress. An older article in the Independent argues that wearing the burqa in the 21st century is ‘preposterous’. The BBC asks ‘Should the UK ban the Muslim face veil?’.
The parliamentary committee set up in June to investigate the wearing of the burqa and the niqab in France released its report today. The report is available here (in French only). “The wearing of the full veil is a challenge to our republic. This is unacceptable,” says the report. “We must condemn this excess”. Agnes Poirier has an interesting take on the negotiations which led to the report. Natasha Lehrer summarises the key findings for the Index on Censorship as follows:
As expected, the commission stopped short of recommending a blanket ban on the wearing of the burka, proposing instead a ban on covering the face in administrative buildings, schools, hospitals and public transport. “This measure would oblige people not only to show their faces at the entrance to all public buildings but also to keep their faces uncovered during the entire period in which they are in a public building.” The report goes on to emphasise that “the consequence of violating this injunction would not be criminal but would be sanctioned by the service being sought being refused.”
In addition the commission suggests that wearing the burka might also be banned in buildings used by members of the public — for example banks or post offices — where identity checks and CCTV are used for security purposes, for example to prevent robbery. For similar reasons of public safety, driving whilst wearing the burka might also be forbidden.
Jean-François Copé (pictured left), of the conservative French political party, the UMP, has recently tabled legislation that would make wearing the burqa or niqab in public an offence punishable by a fine of 750 euro. The draft text reads: “No one may, in spaces open to the public and on public streets, wear a garment or an accessory that has the effect of hiding the face.” André Gerin, chairman of a parliamentary inquiry into the use of full face veils in France, ruled out the possibility of a total ban in November of last year. We blogged about the Gérin Commission here. It is expected to report some time this month. The New Zealand Herald translates an interview which Copé gave to Le Figaro explaining the rationale behind his proposal:
“The parliamentary resolution will help to recall the fundamental principles of respecting the rights of women as a key element of the Republic. The law will respond to the question of security… How can we imagine that a teacher can let a child go out of school and be handed over to someone whose face cannot be seen?… At a time when we are developing the means of video-protection, how can we think of people walking around with their faces covered?..Exceptions to the ban would be made for “carnival or cultural events” where people were masked, he said.
As news comes that France will follow Britain’s lead in launching a ‘national identity’ project, I am reminded to check in on the country’s latest foray into the regulation of Muslim women’s dress: the National Assembly’s Mission d’information sur la pratique du port du voile integral sur le territoire nationale. The mission was created on June 23rd at the instance of André Gerin – with the support of a number of right wing deputies - and met in July, September and October of this year. The hearings will finish in December and the final conclusions should be available in January. Transcripts of the sessions of the mission so far are available here and videos of the sessions are here. The transcripts of the mission’s hearings – which include testimony from hospital professionals, mosque representatives, feminist groups, mayors, philosophers, anthropologists, historians and others – certainly make for interesting reading. The main points are summarised after the jump.
The beginning of the new school year is as good a time as any to take stock of Europe’s seemingly boundless obsession with Muslim women’s dress. I blogged on the hijab in Ireland’s schools for the CCJHR blog in June of last year. Since then, RTE has produced a radio documentary about Shekinah Egan, whose case sparked Irish engagement with this issue.
When I talk about Muslim women’s dress, I have in mind a number of types of garment which cover the face and body to varying degrees. They are displayed and labelled in the picture on the right, adapted from the BBC website. The European debates have revolved around the permissibilty of restrictions on this broad class of dress. Even as it becomes a visible part of European popular culture and lived multiculturalism; in rap music, art and sport, ‘the veil’ excites ever more exclusionary policy-making. This post is intended as an entry level guide to current debates and is confined to a selection of the most important ‘hijab’ stories which have been reported since January. Rather than getting into my own analysis (or indeed, into the law or the voluminous academic commentary) in any detail in this post, I wanted to write a ‘basics’ post now which will introduce readers to the topic and ground my later contributions.
The European engagement with Islamic dress can be understood in terms of four broad themes: the what, who, where and why of restrictions on Muslim women’s dress.