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Tuesday, 14 September 2010

France to vote on Muslim veil ban

One woman says she will stay at home and pray, but other women may risk arrest to defy a ban on the burka-style veil if a bill to outlaw the Islamic garment becomes law in France.

The ban, being voted on in the French Senate, would affect only a tiny minority of Muslim women - estimated at less than 2,000 - making it far less controversial than France's 2004 ban on Muslim head scarves in classrooms, which proliferated in heavily immigrant neighbourhoods.

However, many Muslims believe the latest legislation is but one more blow to France's second religion, and risks raising the level of Islamophobia in a country where mosques, like synagogues, are sporadic targets of hate.

The proposed law was passed overwhelmingly by the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, on July 13.

The expected green light from the Senate would make it definitive once the president signs off on it - barring amendments and an eventual decision by dissenting MPs to seek the opinion of the Constitutional Council.

At least 60 are needed to ask the council to decide whether the bill meets constitutional muster.

The measure would outlaw face-covering veils on the street, including those worn by tourists. It is aimed at ensuring gender equality, women's dignity and security, as well as upholding France's secular values - and its way of life.

Backers insist it is not anti-Muslim but is aimed at getting all Muslims to integrate fully into French society. Ironically, the measure may keep some women cloistered in their homes to avoid exposing their faces in public.

Muslim leaders concur that Islam does not require a woman to hide her face. However, they have voiced concerns that a law forbidding them to do so would stigmatise the French Muslim population, which at an estimated five million is the largest in western Europe.

The Telegraph