The head of President Nicolas Sarkozy's party said Sunday he wants a law to ensure that Muslim women who wear face-covering veils do not acquire French nationality.
Xavier Bertrand, head of the conservative UMP party, said the full veil "is simply a prison for women who wear it" and "will make no one believe" a woman wearing it wants to integrate.
France is moving closer to banning such veils, even though only a tiny minority of Muslim women wear them. A top UMP lawmaker last week filed legislation to ban the garb, and a parliamentary committee studying the issue for the past six months is to turn in its report on whether a law is needed by the end of the month. That panel mixes politicians from both the left and right.
Sarkozy opened debate on the topic in June, telling a special gathering of both houses of parliament that veils that cover the face "are not welcome" in France. He reiterated his position Wednesday, saying the full veil "is contrary to our values and contrary to the ideals we have of a woman's dignity."
Bertrand spoke out on the subject during New Year's greetings to UMP faithful in Nice. His remarks were particularly bold because he clearly stated that women wearing such veils should not be allowed to acquire French nationality.
A fully veiled Moroccan woman, Faiza Silmi, was denied French nationality in 2008 and has taken her case to the European Court of Human Rights, contending the rejection was based on her clothes.
Sarkozy said he wants parliament to pass a resolution, without the weight of law, and a law concerning the veils — without specifically mentioning an outright ban.
The subject is sensitive. France's Muslim leaders have warned that the entire community of Muslims — the largest in western Europe — would feel stigmatized.
Bertrand, whose thinking reflects that of the president in his capacity as party chief, said that such veils have nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with gender.
An "ensemble of measures" is needed, he said, beginning with a parliamentary resolution. He was more direct than Sarkozy, saying that "yes, we must ban the burqa," the name incorrectly used to describe the veil. Burqas are worn in Afghanistan and have a netted opening for the eyes.
Critics say such a law would fly in the face of individual's constitutionally guaranteed rights, or make France a laughingstock. Some contend that raising the issue is a political maneuver ahead of March regional elections with Sarkozy's UMP fishing for support from the anti-immigrant far right. An ongoing debate on French national identity, contested by many, is seen as targeting immigrants.
France has already passed a law banning Muslim headscarves from French classrooms in 2004. That law encompasses all "ostentatious" religious symbols so as not to appear to target Muslims and to get a green light from the Constitutional Council which reviews legislation.
The measure proposed last week by Jean-Francois Cope is presented as a security initiative.
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