Sarkozy Says Burqas Are ‘Not Welcome’ in France

AP, June 22, 2009

President Nicolas Sarkozy lashed out Monday at the practice of wearing the Muslim burqa, insisting the full-body religious gown is a sign of the “debasement” of women and that it won’t be welcome in France.

The French leader expressed support for a recent call by dozens of legislators to create a parliamentary commission to study a small but growing trend of wearing the full-body garment in France.

In the first presidential address in 136 years to a joint session of France’s two houses of parliament, Sarkozy laid out his support for a ban even before the panel has been approved–braving critics who fear the issue is a marginal one and could stigmatize Muslims in France.

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“The burqa is not a religious sign, it’s a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement–I want to say it solemnly,” he said. “It will not be welcome on the territory of the French Republic.”

In France, the terms “burqa” and “niqab” often are used interchangeably. The former refers to a full-body covering worn largely in Afghanistan with only a mesh screen over the eyes, whereas the latter is a full-body veil, often in black, with slits for the eyes.

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France enacted a law in 2004 banning the Islamic headscarf and other conspicuous religious symbols from public schools, sparking fierce debate at home and abroad. France has Western Europe’s largest Muslim population, an estimated 5 million people.

A government spokesman said Friday that it would seek to set up a parliamentary commission that could propose legislation aimed at barring Muslim women from wearing the head-to-toe gowns outside the home.

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