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Burkha not welcome in France
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has condemned the traditional Muslim burkha as a symbol of subservience.
June 23, 2009 10:29 by Aarti Nagraj
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said that the traditional Muslim burkhas was a “sign of debasement” and has urged the country’s parliament to debate whether wearing the garment should be banned.
During a speech before a joint session of parliament, Sarkozy said, “The problem of the burka is not a religious problem. This is an issue of a woman’s freedom and dignity. This is not a religious symbol. It is a sign of subservience; it is a sign of lowering. I want to say solemnly, the burka is not welcome in France.”
“We cannot accept in our country women trapped behind a fence, cut off from social life, deprived of any identity. This is not the idea that we have of a woman’s dignity,” he added.
Sarkozy’s remarks came after a recent call by a number of French MPs to create a parliamentary commission to study the trend of wearing the full-body religious garment in France. Some of them have also called for a ban on burkhas, reportedly calling the garments an “ambulatory prison” for women.
“A debate has to take place and all views must be expressed,” said Sarkozy. “What better place than parliament for this? I tell you we must not be ashamed of our values, we must not be afraid of defending them.”
The remarks have drawn some ire in the country; the French Muslim Council has said that even convening a special inquiry commission would “once again seriously stigmatize Islam and French Muslims,” reports Canada-based The Globe and Mail.
However, Dalil Boubakeur, head of the main mosque in Paris, said that the president’s remarks were “in keeping with the republican spirit of secularism”, reports Uk-based The Times. Moderate Muslims also saw full face-covering as a symbol of submission, he added.
France has five million Muslims, the largest number in Western Europe.
In 2004, France passed a law banning the use of “conspicuous” religious symbols such as Islamic headscarves at state schools. The move was severely criticized by bodies across the world including Human Rights Watch, which called the law an “unwarranted infringement on the right to religious practice.”