Muslim woman presses French panel for burqa ban
According to Associated Press, a leader of an advocacy group for Muslim women and girls urged a French parliamentary panel on Wednesday to press for laws that would ban the wearing of Islamic body- and face-covering veils.
The panel, chaired by a Communist Party lawmaker, will hold months of hearings before issuing a report, likely by January. It has no power to draft laws but could recommend legislation restricting or banning women from wearing head-to-toe Islamic robes that mask facial features in public. The panel was announced in June, a day after President Nicolas Sarkozy all but prejudged the debate, saying that the robes make "prisoners" out of women and won't ever be welcome in France. The parliamentary panel is also to hear from supporters of the veils, though the list of witnesses has not yet been completed, the panel said.
A ban could spur a backlash. A 2004 law in France banned wearing Muslim headscarves at public schools, along with Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses. That law sparked fierce debate both at home and abroad. Some Muslim leaders interpret the Quran to require women to wear a headscarf, niqab or burqa in the presence of a man who is not their husband or close relative.
According to the U.S. Department of State: "Since prehistoric times, France has been a crossroads of trade, travel, and invasion. Three basic European ethnic stocks — Celtic, Latin, and Teutonic (Frankish) — have blended over the centuries to make up its present population. . . . Traditionally, France has had a high level of immigration. . . . In 2004, there were over 6 million Muslims, largely of North African descent, living in France. France is home to both the largest Muslim and Jewish populations in Europe."
According to Justin Vaïsse, professor at Sciences Po Paris, in spite of obstacles and spectacular failures like the riots in November 2005, integration of Muslim immigrants is happening as part of a background evolution and recent studies confirmed the results of their assimilation, showing that "North Africans seem to be characterized by a high degree of cultural integration reflected in a relatively high propensity to exogamy" with rates ranging from 20% to 50%. There are approximately 5 million people of Muslim background in France. Estimates of 6 million and more are not reliable. According to the 1999 census and a survey of family history that accompanied it (based on a sample of 380 000 persons), "potential Muslims" were 3.7 million that year.1 Most French Muslims trace their lineage back to Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, and to a lesser extent, Turkey. Among “potential Muslims,” that is French citizens of African or Turkish origin with at least one parent or grandparent born in Africa or Turkey, 66% identify themselves as Muslims and 20% as having no religion at all.2
• Among “potential Muslims” in France, attendance at mosques is not very high. This is particularly noticeable when the figure is compared with church attendance (around 10% attend each week). But religious observance (abstaining from alcohol, fasting during Ramadan and praying) is higher among self-declared Muslims than among self-declared Catholics.
• Although French Muslims of African or Turkish origin are typically younger than the rest of the French population, fertility rates among immigrant women tend to conform with the French norm after their arrival. The gap in fertility rates between immigrant women and French women is 0.46. While Europe on the whole is experiencing declining birth rates, there are two demographic exceptions: France and Ireland. In France, the fertility rate is 1.94 children born per woman (2005.) (In comparison, the U.S. fertility rate is 2.08 children born per woman.) Without immigrant women, this figure would drop by 0.05 children born per woman. In other words, one can hardly speak of a "demographic time bomb," "colonization in reverse," or the "Islamicization of France.”
• Roughly half of the 5 million Muslims living in France today are not citizens. Many are under 18 years of age or recent immigrants, the latter of which tend not to register to vote. As a result, Muslims are not a political force in France. Even if one assumes that somewhere between 1.2 and 1.5 million Muslims living in France are eligible to vote, they do not constitute a voting bloc as the French electoral system in general is not predisposed to such blocs. Merely speaking of a “Muslim community in France” can be misleading and inaccurate: like every immigrant population, Muslims in France exhibit strong cleavages based on the country of their origin, their social background, political orientation and ideology, and the branch or sect of Islam that they practice (when they do). With the exception of the French Council for the Muslim Religion (CFCM), an institution created by the State for purely religious purposes, there exists no common association or central representation for French Muslims.