It is easy to see that a woman’s human rights are violated when a government requires her to wrap her body and face in an all-concealing veil, as the Taliban used to do when it ran Afghanistan. It should be just as easy to see the violation when a French parliamentary panel recommends, as it did this week, barring women who wear such veils — the burqa and the niqab — from using public services, including schools, hospitals and public transportation. (Muslim head scarves have been banned from public school classrooms since 2004.)
People must be free to make these decisions for themselves, not have them imposed by governments or enforced by the police.
Instead of condemning the recommendation, President Nicolas Sarkozy seems determined to outdo it. He already has declared that full-body veils are “not welcome” in France. His party’s leader in Parliament wants to pass a law that bans women wearing burqas and niqabs from the streets. The Taliban would be pleased. The rest of the world should declare its revulsion.
Unfortunately, French politicians seem willfully blind to the violation of individual liberties. With regional elections scheduled for March, Mr. Sarkozy and his allies are desperately looking for ways to deflect public anger over high unemployment. It is hard to produce jobs and far too easy to fan anti-Muslim prejudices.
France has more than five million Muslim residents, the most of any Western European country. Fewer than 2,000 are said to wear full-body veils, posing no obvious threat to French identity or security. But because they are so few, they make a temptingly cheap electoral target.
Muslim-bashing has been a potent vote-getter for French far-right politicians, most notably Jean-Marie Le Pen. In a clear bid to peel off some of those votes, Mr. Sarkozy’s center-right government has spent months promoting a sometimes foolish, sometimes menacing “national debate” on French identity. No political gain can justify hate-mongering.
From: The New York Times