Muslims in the Arab world are incensed and Muslims in France are walking a delicate line after President Nicolas Sarkozy pushed for an all-out ban on full Islamic veils like the burka.
"Ridiculous" and "misplaced," said a Muslim vendor Thursday at an outdoor market in a working class, ethnically mixed Paris suburb. "Racist," said a Sunni Muslim cleric in Lebanon.
The rector of the Muslim Institute of the Paris Mosque, however, held off on harsh criticism, saying only that any ban should be properly explained, and noting that the Qur'an does not require women to cover their bodies and faces.
Sarkozy upped the stakes Wednesday in France's drive to abolish the full veil, ordering a draft law banning them in all public places ó defying France's highest administrative body, which says such a ban risks being declared unconstitutional.
Such a measure would put France on the same track as Belgium, which is also moving toward a complete ban amid fears of radicalism and growing Islamic populations in Europe. Sarkozy says such clothing oppresses women and is "not welcome" in France. French officials have also cited a concealed face as a security risk.
France's top government official for family issues, Nadine Morano, said the conservative government wants to "break this dynamic of invasion of burkas in our country."
While France has western Europe's largest Muslim population, only a tiny minority of Muslim women in France wear the burka, which has only a mesh screen for the eyes, or the niqab, which leaves a slit for the eyes.
"France is addressing a very strong message. It is a message on an international level to women. How can we explain that while women are fighting in Afghanistan for their freedom, for their dignity, in France we accept what they are fighting against?" Morano said on France-Info radio Thursday.
Abdel Halim Laeib, a market vendor in Livry-Gargan northeast of Paris, is worried that outlawing the veils would inflame tensions in a nation struggling to define its modern identity.
"I find it totally ridiculous," he said. "Every person has the right to practise their religion, in whatever way they want to. Personally, it doesn't bother me if someone wears the full veil, like a woman who can wear a miniskirt, or a low-cut top where we can see her breasts."
Middle East reaction
In Lebanon, Sheik Maher Hammoud, a Sunni Muslim cleric in the southern city of Sidon, called the French actions racist.
"Whenever Islamic thought and culture clashes with Western democracy, racism rears its head and under various names," he said. "Muslims do not need lessons from Sarkozy or anyone else to teach them about human rights or the rights of women."
In Damascus, Mohammed Habash, Syrian lawmaker and head of the Centre for Islamic Studies, said "such decisions only serve to encourage Islamophobia." Given the small numbers of women in France who wear the niqab, he said, "I don't think this constitutes a security or cultural threat."
"This does not bode well for the relationship between Islamic countries and Western governments," he said.
France drew similar criticism when it outlawed Muslim headscarves and other "ostentatious" religious symbols from classrooms in 2004.
Kind of ironic when I don't remember them ever actually asking the women in question what they thought or even if they're wearing them by their own free will as an adult..... or if they even have men in their lives whom could tell them what to wear or not.
In extremist places that follow Islam, sure I bet some men are forcing women to wear them.... but most moderates I've seen interviewed who wear them in western civilizations said they wear them by their own choice and free will and like the fact that they don't have to deck themselves out in makeup and such when they want to head out somewhere, in order to impress strangers on the street when it's none of their concern how they look. They don't have to worry about men heckling them or checking them out on the streets, which we all know us men do from time to time.
So when can we expect the same dress codes being applied to other religious groups like the Amish, Jehovah's Witnesses, Nuns, Priests, Rabbis, etc.?
Of course it never once surprised me that something like this half-brained idea would come from Sarkozy.... he's a womanizing pig anyways, married a super model, constantly caught in photo opts checking women out.... if he had his way, he'd have France setup like the Feringi Homeworld where all women must be naked at all times and banned from wearing clothes.
Sarkozy is protecting women from oppression? Sounds like he's protecting his right to have women to check out and oogle.
And the whole argument on security and people hiding bombs under burqas is so baseless and stupid, it's not even funny.