Muslim Attire Under Intense Debate In France Few other countries has been so involved in the debate over Muslim dress as France. The strictly secular country has already banned the wearing of a full veil in public buildings and state schools, but now a proposed new law could prohibit women from wearing the naqib or burka in public places. Host Michel Martin talks to NPR reporter Eleanor Beardsley about what is pushing the French government to act so swiftly.
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Muslim Attire Under Intense Debate In France

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Muslim Attire Under Intense Debate In France

Muslim Attire Under Intense Debate In France

Muslim Attire Under Intense Debate In France

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Few other countries has been so involved in the debate over Muslim dress as France. The strictly secular country has already banned the wearing of a full veil in public buildings and state schools, but now a proposed new law could prohibit women from wearing the naqib or burka in public places. Host Michel Martin talks to NPR reporter Eleanor Beardsley about what is pushing the French government to act so swiftly.

TELL ME MORE: To talk more about this, we called reporter Eleanor Beardsley. She joins us on the phone from Paris. Welcome. Thank you for joining us.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Thank you. It's a pleasure, Michel.

: So Eleanor, we've mentioned that it is believed that only a small number of women wear the niqab, but do we know any more about who these women are? Do they tend to be immigrants? Do they tend to be French nationals?

BEARDSLEY: I think some of them probably are French, but other groups have put it at maybe 20 percent or 25 percent. I think these are probably recent immigrants and some French, probably a mix.

: Well, you spoke with Jean-François Cope of the ruling UMP Party, who's advancing this idea that this should be banned for public wearing, and here's what he had to say. Here it is.

JEAN: The two reasons why we have to implement this legislation is, first of all, to respect the women, the rights of women, and second, it's a question of security. Who can imagine tomorrow that in a country like ours, people can just walk everywhere in the country - not only on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, but also in other cities - with a burqa without the possibility for us to recognize the face?

: How is this argument being received, Eleanor?

BEARDSLEY: And then, you know, French people agree the burqa us not a great thing and we don't want to see it everywhere in France, but is it really worth having this debate and having - making a law against it? Won't that just create problems where none exist? And, you know, there's these regional elections coming up in March in France, and lot of people are saying this is just great campaign fodder. The government wants to just, you know, use this to attract votes, especially from the right.

: Is there any religious liberty principle in France that this conflicts with? For example, I mean, in the United States it's very hard to imagine somebody banning a particular item of clothing. People have tried. You know, this whole question of saggy pants has come up in some jurisdictions, it's - that sort of thing. But particular pieces of clothing that have religious meaning, is there any religious liberty protected in France that this would conflict with? Or is this really a matter of - does the state have the authority to do this, is, I guess, my question.

BEARDSLEY: So while you're absolutely allowed to practice your religion, the laws of the state come above all the other laws. So what he's saying is this is about respect. The burqa is not clothing. When you wear the burqa, you're making a choice. You're presenting a position, and that position is not compatible with the values of the republic. I mean, he says what if a policeman stops you and wants to see your I.D.? Who are you? And they gave a good example, actually. A mother comes to pick up her child at preschool, do we know that that's really the mother if we can't see her?

: We thank you so much.

BEARDSLEY: Great to be with you.

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