Niqab ban is inevitable in secular France: experts

Politics Materials 11 September 2009 12:06 (UTC +04:00)
The ban on wearing niqab in France is inevitable, as the concept of secularism and non-recognition of any religion is too strong in the French society. The closed woman face is perceived as a political signal and a threat to this way of life, experts believe.
Niqab ban is inevitable in secular France: experts

Azerbaijan, Baku, Sept. 11 / Trend , E.Ostapenko/

The ban on wearing niqab in France is inevitable, as the concept of secularism and non-recognition of any religion is too strong in the French society. The closed woman face is perceived as a political signal and a threat to this way of life, experts believe.

"This kind of reaction is also caused by a French conception of secularism: [...] the French one is rejecting all religion and the existence of God is not acknowledged by the State," believes Sylvain Charat, famous French Analyst. "Therefore, all that is reflecting too openly a belief can be considered as a threat to secularism".

France is a secular state whose laws require the complete separation of church from the state.

A special parliamentary commission was formed which in September will decide whether Muslim women in France can wear burqa (wide-spread clothing in Afghanistan which fully covers woman's body with face-veil). French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, also supports this ban and calls the burqa the "symbol of slavery".

However, it is almost impossible to meet the burqa in France. The number of women wearing it does not hit 367 people. The reason for a misunderstanding is that, when speaking about the burqa, the French people mean the niqab (Muslim woman's headdress that covers the face, with a narrow slit for the eyes).

The burqa is traditional clothes that is wear in Afghanistan, and in this particular context it is reflecting a tradition, Charat said.

"If the burqa is wear in another context, like the French suburbs, is not reflecting a tradition, but an extreme interpretation of Islam," said Charat, Director of the Charat Consulting analytic centre in Paris.

In a Western society, the face is an open part of social relations, believes Kenneth Minogue, Specialists on Religious Ideologies. To conceal the face in any way is to make someone a "non-person".

"The burqa is incompatible with the openness of European societies, and is demeaning to women," said Minogue, Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the London School of Economics.

Many forms of Islamic apparel are proscribed in Muslim majority societies such as Turkey and Tunisia, said Paul Diamond, Member of the Religion and Society Workshop at Oxford University. He believes this is because the wearing of such clothing is not seen as private religious manifestation, but a statement of political Islam and a rejection of Judeo Christian values; including the social relations between men and women.

The reasons of debating the ban on the niqab in France are following, believes Asma Abdul Hamid, Expert on the Islamic issues in Denmark.

First, the Europeans do not know the difference between the theoretical Islam and practical Muslims.

Secondly, the Muslims, she says, bring social problems of the Middle East into the French society, as there are problems with women's rights in some so-called Muslim countries. France also looks at the problem from this perspective and is afraid that the problems will spread in its society, as well, said Abdul Hamid.

She said Muslims must take certain steps to solve this problem.

"Muslims have moved away from socio-political life, but they must be involved in this process. Especially, not Muslim immigrants should be engaged in it and but Muslim-French people," she said.

Violation of human rights is not equally perceived by everybody.

The French government accepts the wearing niqab as a political statement, not as a religious duty, believes Daoud Abdullah, Deputy Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Great Britain.

However, he said, it is necessary to realize that the European Convention on Human Rights provides every individual with the right to practise the religion which he/she wants, under his/her inner convictions.

"Women who dress in such a way acts in accordance with their views according to their convictions, not wanting to open a face and their decision should be respected," said Abdullah.

According to Abdul Hamid, no democratic government can dictate to its citizens that they should wear.

"If this happens, it suggests that the country does not adhere to democratic values," she said.

The ongoing debate in France is not something unexpected. Five years ago, the Muslim community of France was shaken with the new law, banning the wearing "symbols showing, religious affiliation", including hijab in public schools. Besides the hijab, the Christian crosses and Jewish kippahs were also banned.

To adopt the law, which will inevitably lead to strained relations with the Muslim community, is not needed, experts believe.

The lawmakers should not vote a law, Charat said. First, because the number of women wearing the burqa is extremely marginal. Laws are made to edict general principles and not for solving problems caused by a hundred people.

Second, because the French common law is already determining that people's face must be seen in order to be identified.

"This is French common law and it is sufficient enough to give the solution to the burqa question without voting a new law and without raising a hot debate," Charat said.

Adopting the law, banning Muslim clothes that cover the face, would be another sign of how difficult is the French attitude towards Islam and religion in general.

E.Tariverdiyeva and U.Sadikhova contributed to this article.

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