FARZANA HASSAN

Arabs reject French face veil ban

Monday, October 11 2010

A heated and often bad-tempered argument over France's decision to ban full-face veils in public, launched the seventh series of The Doha Debates, with an overwhelming majority in the mainly-Arab audience opposing it.

Debating the motion that "France is right to ban the face veil", both teams haggled passionately before 78 per cent of the house voted against the move, amid claims that a secular state was interfering in personal freedom and fuelling Islamophobia and racism.

Supporters of the motion argued that the niqab is not a symbol of Islam and that requiring women to cover their faces goes against the French state's principles of secularism and equality.

The four speakers often shouted across each other, reflecting tension over an issue that has divided both Western Europe and the Islamic world. Arabs fear the French bill is part of a wider anti-Muslim trend in Europe, where several countries are considering a similar move. Switzerland voted in a referendum this summer to ban the construction of new minarets.

Speaking in favour of the motion were Jacques Myard, a member of the ruling conservative UMP coalition in the French national assembly and Farzana Hassan, a writer and women's rights activist of Pakistani origin.

"Never in our history has anyone had some piece of cloth in front of her face," said Mr. Myard. "This is a blow to the French nation.....do you really want society in France living in boxes which do not communicate? We are citizens of the French Republic."

In response to a question, Mr. Myard, acknowledged that it wasn't an easy decision but he added: "It is better today to bar something that hurts the deep soul of France than to do something in the future that hurts more."

Ms. Hassan, a member and former founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, said the niqab should be banned to protect women from growing radicalization. "The veil over the face will give my religion Islam a very bad name. Restricting some rights to protect others is not an infringement", she added.

Nabila Ramdani, a journalist and commentator who specialises in Arab and Islamic affairs said her opponents' arguments were based on myths. "As a proud French citizen I tell you this is autocratic and intolerable - a clear suppression of freedom of religion."

Mehdi Hasan, senior political editor of the UK publication, the NewStatesman, also criticised the ban, saying it was "unnecessary, self-defeating and morally-wrong" for a state to infringe on the freedom of women to wear what they want in public.

He said the move targeted minorities and likened it to "someone who was reaching for a Bazooka to kill a fly." What has happened, he asked,"to liberty, equality and fraternity?"

France's parliament, he suggested, would be better off looking into the president's declining popularity and other economic and domestic political challenges.

 

Send questions or comments to Farzana Hassan