In a move that he says is intended to protect the dignity and security of women the President of the ruling ‘Union pour un Mouvement Populaire’ (UMP) party, is drafting a new law to ban the veil in public. This move by Jean-Francois Cope comes in the wake of the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, saying that the veil is unwelcome in France.The intention is to create a law that would enable the fining of anyone fully covering their face by up to â‚¬750 (Â£700). So it is not specifically aimed at Muslim dress, but at all people in public places.
Mr Cope has previously stated that “Permanently masking one’s face in public spaces is not an expression of individual liberty, it’s a negation of oneself, a negation of others, a negation of social life.”
But of course there will be objections to this under human rights legislation on the basis of religious freedoms, which may scupper the legislation. Also, very few women wear them anyway.
This whole debate has actually been going on in France since the October 1989, when three female Muslim students were suspended for refusing to remove their veils at a school in Creil. Over the years mongst other names this topic is sometimes referred to in France as ‘l'affaire du voile’ (the veil affair), ‘l'affaire du foulard’ (the scarf affair) or ‘l'affaire du voile islamique’ (the Islamic veil affair). The wearing of any conspicuous religious items, not just veils, in French schools was also banned from mid 2004.
This all seems to revolve around the subject of ‘French identity’ and the nation’s secularity, despite there being some five million Muslims living in France today, or about 8% of the population.
The French do though seem to be taking a firm cultural stand on the issue. They are making a decision and are following through on it. It may well lead to a period of discontent but, at the end of the day, I believe they will successfully enforce their view and it will lead to a happy outcome in the fullness of time.
Some of the more disaffected may elect to move out of France even if they don't wear the veil on the basis of it being an attack on their religion. But they are as likely to head across the English Channel as they are to go Southwards across the Mediterranean. This may become a debate that we in the UK will have to have in the future.