France: Burqa debate turns into fistfight

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A debate organised by “Ni putes ni soumises”, a French NGO, Tuesday night in Paris, on the question of the full Islamic veil ended in an exchange of insults and blows. Meanwhile, meeting in Paris Wednesday, French ministers paved the way for a draft law that seeks to ban the wearing of the burqa in France.

French NGO “Ni Putes Ni Soumises” had planned a public debate on the eve of the presentation of the draft law that seeks a complete ban on the burqa, the full Islamic veil. However, pro-burqa supporters, who the police have failed to identify, violently thwarted the NGO’s efforts.

Fiercely opposed to the wearing of the burqa, Ni Putes Ni Soumises intended to use the opportunity to develop a common front against the wearing of the veil in France.

The one hundred plus people who gathered at the debate premises, — a primary school in Montreuil a Parisian suburb,– was made up of diverse groups including women, feminists, politicians, Islamists, some women wearing the simple veil and some wearing the full veil.

The debate, which began in a tense atmosphere, was allegedly disrupted by members of Sheikh Yassin, a pro-Palestinian group, forcing the organizers to call for police intervention, as insults turned into fistfights. The rioters had already fled upon the arrival of the police.

Wednesday, the French Cabinet met in Paris to give its stamp of approval to legislative proceedings towards the adoption of the law.

Manuel Valls, member of the French Socialist Party (PS) and supporter of the ban on the burqa, was among those present when the riots broke out. According to him, instead of dissuading him, the incident has only given impetus to his belief that the law should be established. “I feel that this case comes to try the Republic and its representatives and I for one won’t be intimidated”, he said.

“I think those who had doubts before tonight’s debate understood, as they left (the meeting), the need for a law that says enough to those who exploit Islam and reduce women to silence,” added Sihem Habchi, President of Ni Putes Ni Soumises.

The bill, presented by French Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie on Wednesday, has seven sections. It will be debated by Members of Parliament in July and reviewed by the Senate early September, before its promulgation.

“Behind the burqa there is provocation not religion. It is not welcome in France,” Xavier Bertrand, French Labor Minister, said Wednesday in an interview on Itélé.

Nonetheless, while some Muslims warn that a ban on the wearing full veils could encourage stigmatization, the question has also split the French political class.

Some MP’s, including Noël Mamère, a prominent figure in the green party, insist that the bill goes against individual liberties.

The highest administrative court in France, Le Conseil d’Etat, has twice ruled against a blanket prohibition arguing that the ban is not compatible with the French constitution as it infringes on human rights.

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