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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Burqa. Le rapport de toutes les controverses

by Margaux Subra-Gomez and Antoine Patricot

Burka. The report that spawns a multitude of controversies

Translated Monday 1 February 2010, by Gene Zbikowski and reviewed by Henry Crapo

The parliamentary mission on the full facial veil is to present its conclusions on January 26. It favors forbidding the veil in all public services. Jean-François Copé plays at upping the ante.

And yet, it seemed like such a simple matter at first. “The burka is not welcome on the soil of the French Republic,” Nicolas Sarkozy declared on June 22, 2009, before a joint session of the French parliament, united in congress at Versailles. Watch it, Mr. President, seven months on, the expression is no longer “burka” but “full facial veil!” The parliamentary mission presided over by the French Communist Party deputy for the Rhône département, André Gérin, has obtained that result. A veritable standard-bearer of anti-communitarianism, the former mayor of Vénissieux will hand in the report on the forbidding of the nikab to the president of the National Assembly, Bernard Accoyer, tomorrow morning.

The report affirms that wearing “the full facial veil is contrary to the values of the French Republic, which are liberty, fraternity, and human dignity,” and it demands the prohibition of the practice in France. The report, which includes about 20 “recommendations,” proposes legislative measures to forbid the full facial veil in public services: administration buildings, hospitals, the school gate, public transport...

However the deputies spell out that the application of the law should be spread out in time, giving priority to collective, pedagodic and mediatory work so as to combat this sectarian phenomenon. But less severe measures than total outlawing exist, and all of the deputies who responded to the call of the mission agree that it is necessary “to take our time.” André Gérin, considering that freedom of conscience can only be exercised when the principle of secularism is respected, denounced the “French-style talibans” and hopes that the report will give rise to a republican consensus.

The “sacred union” for which the communist deputy hope did not, however, survive Jean-François Copé’s takeover bid. In an opinion piece published in Le Figaro on December 16, 2009, the president of the UMP group at the National Assembly felt that a general ban on the full facial veil is “indispensable.” This intrusion into the political debate was accompanied by a bill. The spectacular proposal was unanimously criticized: “interference” in the words of Bernard Accoyer, “precipitation” for André Gérin, but UMP deputy Copé has benefited.

According to an IPSOS-Le Point opinion poll published on January 21, he obtained a 39% favorable rating, realizing an increase of 6%, the best in one month. His strategy wrong-foots President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is reluctant about the law, in relation to his electorate: 69% of those polled who describe themselves as close to the UMP favor the law.

With his disregard for six months of hearings and debates, Copé, the defender of a “hyper-parliament,” has above all assumed the role of grave-digger of the parliamentary mission. His intervention, and the context linked to the debate on French national identity have pushed the socialist party deputies to refuse to participate in the final vote. In a communiqué, the Green Party denounced the role of the mission as a simple electoral machination. There is also disagreement within the Left Front. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the president of the Party of the Left, supports the idea of a law but calls for it to be completed with an obligation of multi-culturalism in public spaces. For the French Communist Party, pedagogy is all that is needed: a law on the full facial veil would above all be a law suitable for building Islam phobia. André Gérin responds that that is a “do-gooder” attitude.

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