Friday, 08 January 2010 08:09
MPs will vote on the proposal this month after a long impassioned debate over the merits of outlawing the burka and niqab.
Jean-François Copé, parliamentary leader of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP group, said the 750 euro fine would apply to anyone whose face is “fully covered in public”.
Wearing either would be tolerated only in exceptional circumstances, such as “cultural events or carnivals,” he added.
The bill proposes introducing an even heavier penalty for anyone who forces a woman to wear the full veil, Mr Copé said in an interview with the Le Figaro magazine.
The burka is a full-body covering with a mesh screen over the eyes while the niqab is a full-body veil with eye slits.
Mr Copé insists the law is based on public safety and sexual equality considerations and does not restrict religious practices.
“We spoke to religious and secular figures who all confirmed [the burka] was not a religious prescription. Wearing the full body veil is about extremists who want to test the republic,” he said.
President Sarkozy last year declared the burka a “sign of subservience and debasement that imprison women” and said it was “not welcome on French soil”.
But he is said to be undecided as to whether to back the law or a non-binding “resolution” that would make wearing the garments contrary to French values but not a punishable offence.
Mr Copé has left both options on the table by drawing up a resolution regarding women’s rights and a law on security in tandem.
The burka discussion has intensified amid a heated debate on French identity organised by Mr Sarkozy’s immigration minister, Eric Besson. The debate has focused heavily on immigration and Islam in a country with five million Muslims.
Fadela Amara, the urban affairs minister, a women’s rights activist and a Muslim, recently labelled the burka a “walking coffin”.
Michelle Alliot-Marie, the justice minister, said last week that Muslim men seeking French citizenship and whose wives wore the garment were not welcome. She said they would “not appear to be sharing the values of our country.” The opposition Socialists this week came out against a law banning the burka – even though they remain firmly opposed to the garment.
“The burka is a prison for women and has no place in the French Republic. But an ad hoc law would not have the anticipated effect,” said their spokesman, Benoît Hamon.
Jean-Marie Le Pen, the veteran leader of the far-Right National Front, said a ban was unnecessary as it is already “forbidden to walk the streets and public spaces with a mask on”.
Interior ministry figures suggest that around 2,000 women in France wear full Muslim dress in public.
France passed a law in 2004 banning students and staff from wearing “conspicuous” religious symbols in schools – including veils – to defend secularism.
In September a French mother was banned from wearing a full-body “burkini” bathing suit at her local swimming pool. She was told it contravened hygiene regulations but pledged to take her local council to court, saying the decision was political.
In July, al-Qaeda leaders in north African issued a call to arms against France on an Islamic extremist website.
“We will seek dreadful revenge on France by all means at our disposal, for the honour of our daughters and sisters,” they warned.