Sarkozy says burqa is "not welcome" in France

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The President of France Nicolas Sarkozy Monday, in a speech to a joint session of both houses of the Parliament of France, stated that the burqa "will not be welcome on the territory of the French Republic".

Sarkozy in 2007
Image: Agência Brasil.

Sarkozy's address was the first such address by a President of France to the Parliament since 1873. Both houses met as the Congress of France in the Château de Versailles. It was permitted by a revision to the Constitution of France that was enacted in 2008. (Previously, rules based upon the doctrine of the separation of powers had prevented Presidents from addressing the Congress directly except in order to propose revisions to the Constitution.)

In the speech, which was boycotted by the Green and Communist parties, Sarkozy said that "We cannot accept, in our country, women imprisoned behind a mesh, cut off from society, deprived of all identity. That is not the French Republic's idea of women's dignity." He stated that the burqa "is not a sign of religion, it is a sign of subservience."

Sarkozy's remarks come in the wake of his government proposing last week a Parliamentary commission to draft legislation barring the wearing of burqas by Muslim women outside of the home, and of calls by French parliamentarians, including GDR member André Gerin, and government ministers, such as Fadela Amara, for an inquiry into Muslim dress codes.

Sarkozy himself stated that he was calling for a public debate. "A debate has to take place and all views must be expressed.", he said. "What better place than Parliament for this?"

A woman in England in a full burqa in 2007.
Image: Fabio.

Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Great Mosque of Paris, stated that some Muslims themselves also believed the burqa to be a symbol of submission, and stated that Sarkozy's remarks were "in keeping with the republican spirit of secularism". He views the reported increase in the use of the burqa by Muslim women in France as a move towards radicalization of Islam in the country, and calls instead for an "open and convivial Islam that allows people to live side by side".

Sarkozy's remarks continue an on-going controversy about Islamic dress in France. Feelings run strong in France over what is called "laïcité" a concept, enshrined in the Constitution, that embodies components of secularism, separation of churches from the state, division of the private and public spheres, preventing the government endorsement of any single religion, and (according to its critics) anti-clericalism, religious intolerance, and the endorsement by default of erstwhile official religions at the expense of the religions of immigrant communities.

We must not fight the wrong battle.

—Nicolas Sarkozy

Sarkozy called for the public debate to focus on these issues, and not to become a debate over Islam itself. "We must not fight the wrong battle," he said. "In the Republic, the Muslim faith must be respected as much as other religions."

France is home to Western Europe's largest Islamic community, with some five million Muslims living there.


  Learn more about Laïcité, Burqa, and the Islamic scarf controversy in France on Wikipedia.