The leader of France‘s conservative party introduced legislation Jan. 12 that would ban wearing of the burqa in public and make it punishable by 750 euros. Jean-Francois Cope, leader of the Union for Popular Movement (UMP) in the National Assembly, is heading the legislative effort, spurred on by French President Nicholas Sarkozy’s announcement in June that those who wore the burqa were not welcome in France. The bill also has the support of some French socialists, as well as that of Prime Minister Francois Fillon. An official commission into the issue is expected to report by the end of January.
Cope has been pursuing legislation since December, in direct opposition to the National Assembly’s November decision not to push for specific legislation banning the burqa. The commission began hearings in July after being established a month earlier to address the issue. The controversy between the Muslim community and the secular French government has gone on for several years. In December 2008, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) unanimously ruled that there was no human rights violation when a French school expelled two Muslim students for refusing to remove their headscarves. In July of that year, a Moroccan woman’s citizenship application was denied because she failed to assimilate to French culture and practiced a type of Islam found incompatible with French values. The woman, identified only as Faiza M., is married to a French national, speaks French, has three children born in France—but wears a burqa covering her entire body except her eyes. (Jurist, Jan. 13)