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.
- 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: newsdesk.com, 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)
Other Issues in the Region
Turmoil in the Balkans
After the former Yugoslavia split into six republics (Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia), separatists in the province of Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on February 17, 2008. More than two years later, Serbia and other key European nations have not recognized Kosovo as an independent country. The few countries in the region who recognize its independence have suffered weakened relationships with Serbia, who recalled its ambassador from Montenegro in early 2010 over the dispute.
- Serbia-Kosovo Diplomatic War Rumbles On
Several key nations have yet to recognize Kosovo independence. These include the economic powerhouses of China and India, as well as Spain, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union until mid-2010. In late 2009, the International Court of Justice agreed to examine Serbia’s case that Kosovo’s claim to independence is invalid.
(Source: EurActiv; accessed April 26, 2010)
Cleaning Up Europe
Pollution of the air and waterways is a serious problem in Europe. The pollution comes from many sources, including business, industry, the farming community, and ordinary citizens who use and discard household products. All of these individuals and groups must now work together to find a solution, improve conditions, and prevent further damage.
- Emissions of air pollutants down in EU-27
The annual report of the European Environment Agency shows pollution levels in the European Union were lower in 2007 than in the previous year: emissions of the three main pollutants that cause ground-level ozone—carbon monoxide (CO), nonmethane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), and nitrogen oxides (NOx)—all were down substantially, as were levels of sulphur oxides (SOx).
(Source: European Environment Agency, August 21, 2009)
The European Union has its origins in 1951, when France and what was then West Germany signed a treaty with four other nations creating the European Coal and Steel Community. Subsequent treaties involved more nations, leading eventually to the signing of the 1993 Maastricht Treaty, which created the European Union. Differences in size and power among EU members and candidates have created problems in expanding the EU, most notably in drafting a constitution. But both old and new member countries are cautiously optimistic about unification.
- Can the European Union survive the debt crisis?
In the face of a serious debt crisis, the EU’s cohesiveness is being destabilized. In recent years, European nations have overcome national differences to create a powerful economic bloc, but momentum may be building among EU nations to drop the euro as a common currency.
(Source: Christian Science Monitor, May 26, 2010)