Image by insane_capture via FlickrIt's been reorted that the France's lower parliament has voted to ban the wearing of the burkha in public. The bill would make it illegal to wear garments such as the niqab or burka, which incorporate a full-face veil, anywhere in public. It envisages fines of 150 euros (£119) for women who break the law and 30,000 euros and a one-year jail term for men who force their wives to wear the burka. If ratified then it becomes law in September.
I can't say that I followed any of the debate but the soundbites being reported are somewhat worrying.
Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said it was a "victory for democracy and for French values" and "Democracy thrives when it is open-faced." She added that the bill, which makes no reference to Islam or veils, was not aimed at "stigmatising or singling out a religion".
Berengere Poletti, an MP from Mr Sarkozy's centre-right UMP party, said women in full veils wore "a sign of alienation on their faces" and had to be "liberated".
Andre Gerin of the Communist opposition compared the veil to "a walking coffin, a muzzle".
Now I'm no fan of Islam but this bill seems nothing more than playing the heavy hand against those who it deems are different. It's state intervention to change a cultural attribute, an action more worthy from a political dictatorship than a so-called modern democracy. Once the precedence has been set where do the limits end? Do we know? I could understand a bill that required faces to be seen in places like banks and government offices, but just on the streets? Likewise when driving I'm sure there are laws that require a high degree of vision.
So what does it mean for those affected, for the women, and it will be women who have to live with this decree? There will be fines for women who flout the ban. And if they are pressured or threatened by their husbands or families to continue to wear the burkha then the husbands can be fined or jailed. That's going to do wonders for the peronal safety of these women! But perhaps that's not important when compared to the state showing how tough it is when it comes to dealing with cultural islam.
I'm glad to see at least someone on the left who has managed to retain a modicum of common sense in this sea of xenophobia, Jean Glavany, a Socialist MP, who said he opposed the ban on the grounds that it was "nothing more than the fear of those who are different, who come from abroad, who aren't like us, who don't share our values". Shame on the rest of the so called left in France who have dropped their values of freedom and libertarianism.
It does make me wonder how long it will be before other cultural attributes become targets for the legislature?