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Sarkozy move to ban Burqa; POLITICS: Muslim Council outraged by President's comments.

Byline: Mail Reporter

FRENCH President Nicolas Sarkozy has provoked controversy by calling for the Burqa to be banned in his country.

Condemning the gown and veil worn by millions of Muslim women, he said: "The burqa is not a religious sign - it is a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement.

"It will not be welcome on the territory of the French Republic." But his comments have provoked outrage among British Muslim organisations.

A top official with the Muslim Council of Britain said Sarkozy's comments could fan an "Islamophobic reaction" in Europe.

Three years ago Justice Secretary Jack Straw became engulfed in a row when he asked Muslim women to remove their veil during meetings.

The former Foreign Secretary said he felt 'uncomfortable' at his constituency surgery talking to someone he could not see.

In Paris, the 32-member commission set up by parliament will hold hearings that could lead to legislation banning burqas from being worn in public. France has Western Europe's largest Muslim population, estimated at five million.

Officials say it is difficult to know how many women wear burqas and niqabs in France, but estimate the number to be at least in the hundreds.

A similar type of commission led to a 2004 law banning the wearing of Muslim head-scarves at public schools, along with Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses.

In France, the terms "burqa" and "niqab" often are used interchangeably.

A burqa is a full-body covering worn largely in Afghanistan - with only a mesh screen over the eyes.

A niqab is a full-body veil, often black, with slits for the eyes.

Jean-Marie Fardeau, director of the Paris office of Human Rights, said: "Banning the burqa will only stigmatise and marginalise women who wear it." Reefat Drabu, assistant secretarygeneral of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: "It is patronising and offensive to suggest that those Muslim women who wear the burqa do so because of pressure or oppression by their male partners or guardians.

"Such suggestions can legitimately be perceived as antagonistic towards Islam." And Communities Minister Shahid Malik said: "Whether one chooses to wear a veil or burqa, a miniskirt or goth outfit is entirely at the individual's discretion."

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Controversy: Muslim women happy to wear burqas in Sparkhill, Birmingham.
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:Jun 24, 2009
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