French mayors fear burqa ban could not be enforced
PARIS (Reuters) - Several mayors of French towns faced with growing demands from Muslim residents say they fear a proposed ban on head-to-toe burqa and niqab veils could not be enforced and might even prompt more women to cover up.
The mayors expressed their doubts to a parliamentary panel set up to study a possible ban after President Nicolas Sarkozy declared in June that full veils symbolised the subjugation of women and would "not be welcome on our territory."
France banned Muslim headscarves in state schools in 2004 following a similar inquiry. Many mayors and teachers backed that move and the relative ease with which it was introduced has been cited by some arguing for a ban on veils covering the face.
But the hesitation among the five mayors, who experience at first hand the complexities of multicultural life in the suburbs where many Muslims live, showed banning the full veil in public would be much harder than outlawing headscarves in schools.
"Will it backfire? Will a ban encourage more veil wearing?" Claude Dilain, chairman of the Association of Mayors of French Cities and Suburbs, asked at a panel meeting Tuesday.
"Who'll be responsible for enforcing this law?" added Dilian, mayor of Clichy-sous-Bois, an ethnically mixed north Paris suburb rocked by rioting in 2005. "Police in Clichy won't even give out parking tickets in some places or at some times."
Xavier Lemoine, mayor of the Montfermeil suburb east of Paris, said some Muslims there were "being re-Islamised" and France should firmly defend its secular system.
But he was also hesitant about pushing a burqa ban through the National Assembly, saying: "I prefer to do nothing for a good reason than something for a bad reason."
"TIP OF THE ICEBERG"
France, whose five million Muslims make up Europe's largest Islamic minority, has been criticised in the Muslim world for considering a burqa ban. French Islamic community leaders have warned against passing a law that would stigmatise Muslims.
Scepticism about a ban grew here after a police intelligence report estimated only 367 women in France wore such veils.
Panel chairman Andre Gerin, former mayor of a mixed suburb of Lyon, said full veils were "medieval customs" and the "tip of the iceberg" of an Islamisation drive led by what he called "gurus" from outside the neighbourhoods where they appear.
He said the panel would consult with French Muslim leaders and hold hearings in several French cities and visit Brussels before handing in its report early next year.
Not all the mayors at the panel opposed the ban. Renaud Gauquelin, mayor of Rillieux-La-Pape near Lyon, said failing to take a stand would mean failing to defend the separation of church and state and, above all, women's rights.
"What sign would we give to women around the world?" he asked. "To Iranian women fighting for their freedom? To Saudi women who want to be able to drive a car?"
All mayors said some Muslim residents were increasingly making religious demands on municipal services, such as halal school meals or women-only hours in pools. In hospitals, some women refused to be treated by male doctors.
Some Muslims pressured others who did not fast during Ramadan, they said, and abused civil servants as Islamophobes when they refused to comply with demands not allowed by law.
Even the mayors worried about a ban said the National Assembly had to help local officials deal with these issues. But there was no consensus on how to do this.
"I can't see a ban working," said Jean-Yves Le Bouillonnec, mayor of Cachan south of Paris. "It's extremely complex and almost completely inapplicable."
- Tweet this
- Share this
- Digg this