US report criticizes ban on Islamic veil in France

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A large report by the US State Department criticized France and Belgium for passing controversial laws that prevent women from wearing the full Islamic veil.

The United States criticized France and Belgium on Monday for banning women from wearing Islamic veils covering their faces in public, while warning of rising anti-Semitism and hostility towards Muslims in Europe .

The US State Department Report on Religious Freedoms, studied in 2011 but published on July 30, 2012, warned that freedom of worship was compromised across the world, especially in China and Pakistan.

Commenting on the report, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said more than a billion people around the world live “under governments that systematically suppress religious freedom.”

“When it comes to this human right – this key characteristic of stable, secure and peaceful societies – the world is moving backwards,” she said.

In Europe, there was “a rise in xenophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiments and intolerance towards those seen as ‘the others'”, according to the report, which also complained of “a number of growing number of European countries, including Belgium and France, whose laws restricting dress negatively affected Muslims and others. “

France bans the niqab

France enacted its controversial law banning the wearing of the full-face veil of the “burka” or “niqab” type in public in April 2011 (Belgium adopted its own law in July 2011) under President Nicolas Sarkozy, a decision that led to accusations that the president was bending to far-right voters.

Sarkozy was beaten by socialist opponent Francois Hollande in May 2012 – although the new French president has said he has no plans to overturn the ban.

A French commentator, Socialist partisan philosopher Henri Pena-Ruiz, said Hollande’s reluctance to change the law demonstrates that it enjoys all-party support while reflecting France’s long-standing attitude towards the law. religion.

“The United States confuses religious freedom and freedom of conscience,” he told FRANCE 24 on Tuesday. “In France, we respect religion, but we also respect atheism. Believers and non-believers should be treated equally before the law.

“And what freedom does this report defend exactly? He asked. “When France banned Islamic headgear in schools [in 2004], many girls said that they did not want to wear them and that if scarves were not banned, their brothers and fathers would force them to cover up. “

“Clinton needs to think more about the empowerment of women. It’s not as simple a problem as the State Department describes it.

A long history of secularism

France legislated for a complete separation of church and state in 1905, a move that has its ideological roots in the country’s 1789 revolution.

This law, combined with the previous experience of France in terms of power [Catholic] church interests in government largely explains the country’s hard stance on religious symbols, according to Christopher Dickey, Paris bureau chief for Newsweek magazine.

He said it also demonstrates the different attitude from the point of view of the United States, a country that has never experienced “the domination of an all-powerful religious institution.” [like the Catholic Church in France] at the heart of government.

But Dickey rejected the idea that the ban on wearing the niqab and burqa-style headgear was anything more than a “hostile act” by a president desperate to cling to power.

“This report was sought at a time when Nicolas Sarkozy was transparently bending to the far right and effectively legitimizing xenophobia,” he told FRANCE 24. “He was recognized as such by the French who rejected it. “

A “false and controversial question”

Dickey pointed out that the ban only affects some 2,000 of the three million Muslim women in France: “When you talk about such a small minority, you are making a statement about your attitude towards Islam. “

As for Hollande’s reluctance to repeal the controversial law, it was much more because it was a “bogus and controversial” issue.

“Hollande and his socialist government certainly don’t want to spend their political capital trying to overthrow it at a time when there are far more serious concerns,” he said.

But they may be forced to do so. Friday July 28, a riot broke out in Marseille when the police tried to verify the identity of a woman wearing the niqab in the street, as the law requires.

“The test will be whether the Hollande government really wants to enforce this ban,” Dickey said. “They will have to ask themselves if they are really keeping the peace by implementing it.”


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