France’s prime minister said Wednesday he would sign a decree refusing French nationality to a man who forced his wife to wear the full Islamic veil, arguing he “has no place in our country.”
The case has arisen amid a fierce national debate about what it means to be French, with the government seeking to legislate for a ban on the head-to-toe burqa on the grounds that it is incompatible with French values.
Prime Minister Francois Fillon told Europe 1 radio that he would sign the decree issued by Immigration Minister Eric Besson.
“It’s French law,” Mr. Fillon said. “The civil code has for a very long time provided that naturalization could be refused to someone who does not respect the values of the (French) republic.
“This case is about a religious radical: he imposes the burqa, he imposes the separation of men and women in his own home, and he refuses to shake the hands of women.
“If this man does not want to change his attitude, he has no place in our country. In any case, he does not deserve French nationality.”
The man’s name and nationality have not been made public, although Fillon said his wife was French and she could continue to wear the full veil, if she wants, pending legislation.
The decision came after a parliament report last week called for a ban on the burqa in schools, hospitals, government offices and public transport.
The French government is seeking legal advice before drafting legislation that would outlaw the burqa or niqab in as many areas as possible.
President Nicolas Sarkozy has declared the burqa “not welcome” in secular France and is in favour legislation to outlaw it, though he has also warned against stigmatising Muslims.
According to the interior ministry, only around 1,900 women wear the burqa in France, which is home to Europe’s biggest Muslim minority.
Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said last month that Muslim men who forced their wives to wear the full veil should not be granted citizenship.
Mr. Besson said Tuesday that during checks into the man’s application, he had explicitly stated that he would never allow his wife to go out without a full veil and that he believed that a woman “is an inferior being.”
Two years ago a French court denied citizenship to a veiled Moroccan woman on the grounds her “radical” practice of Islam was not compatible with French values.
A recent survey showed 57% of French people were in favour of a law banning the burqa.
Marine Le Pen, the deputy leader of the far-right National Front, said men who forced their wife to wear the full veil should be put on trial, convicted and expelled from the country.
In contrast, the leftist New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) said it was putting forward a candidate in March regional elections who wears a “light veil.”
In a statement, the NPA said the woman concerned was “a militant feminist, anticapitalist and internationalist who believes she must wear the veil in accordance with her religions convictions.”
The wider debate over national identity has divided society, with critics arguing it is fomenting anti-foreigner and anti-Muslim sentiment and is little more than a grab for far-right votes ahead of the March poll.
Mr. Fillon said his government would hold a seminar next Monday to consider its conclusions from the debate.