France Leads Move to Ban the Burqa

France’s lower house of parliament voted near unanimously to ban the wearing in public of the burqa—the full-body attire of some Muslim women—and other veils that cover the face. The French Senate is expected to add its endorsement in September. The ban would take effect six months after it becomes law. The French Council of Ministers asserted that such veils “cannot be tolerated in any public place.” The measure comes on the heels of Belgium’s similar ban earlier this year. It would directly affect an estimated 2,000 Muslim women. Other European countries, including Spain (which has a Muslim population of 47 million), may soon follow suit.

Supporters of the ban emphasize it is a public safety measure, citing that criminals and Islamic terrorists have taken advantage of wearing the burqa to conceal their identities. The wearing of such veils is widely seen as an affront to gender equality and has been denounced as “a new form of enslavement,” even if the practice is voluntary. Opponents of the burqa ban claim it discriminates against those women who choose to wear veils in public as an expression of their beliefs or identity, and violates their freedom of religion. France’s Council of State, the nation’s supreme legal advisory body, has warned that the ban might violate international human rights laws and even France’s own constitution.

In 2004 France outlawed the wearing or overt display of religious symbols in schools; this included the wearing of headscarves by (mostly Muslim) schoolgirls. Many countries—including Syria, a Muslim-majority country with a secular state—have already legislated some restrictions on the use of the Muslim face veil.

Related Links

  • Burqa Ban Passes French Lower House Overwhelmingly
    This article describes the context of the French ban on the wearing of burqas, discusses the penalties that would be imposed, and notes the results of polling on the subject in various European countries.
    (Source: CNN, July 13, 2010)
  • French National Assembly Approves Burqa Ban
    This article analyzes the recent bill banning the burqa in France; includes comments by readers.
    (Source: VOA News, July 13, 2010)
  • France Hardly Alone on Burqa Ban
    This article looks at similar actions in other countries; includes a BBC video: “Is burqa ban Islamophobic?”
    (Source:, July 21, 2010)
  • France’s Burqa Ban in Context
    This commentary puts the French decision in wider cultural context, noting reasons and logic behind the ban.
    (Source: Middle East Forum, July 23, 2010)

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