Doha Debates rejects motion “France is right to ban the face veil”

October 12, 2010
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Panelists discuss the French veil ban - The Peninsula

Participants in The Doha Debates, a public forum for dialogue, have rejected the French government’s controversial ban on face veil in a session that featured an exceptionally heated discussion and an unusually high turnout.

The motion, “This house believes France is right to ban the face veil” was defeated after 78 per cent of the voters rejected it and 22 per cent were in its favour.

Opening the debate with remarks supporting the motion, Jacques Myard, a member of the ruling conservative UMP coalition in the French national assembly, insisted that France was a secular state.

“No-one in our history had worn a piece of cloth on his or her face. Face veil appears for a majority of the people in France as a breach of the common will. It is contrary to the dignity of the human being,” he said.

Myard was the co-chair of the parliamentary party set up to investigate the issue of full face veil in France.

“I am a victim when you deny my right to see your face. Those who refuse to show their face in public are excluding themselves from the national community,” he said in comments about the danger posed by a face veil, reported Qatari daily The Peninsula.

However, his arguments were refuted by journalist Nabila Ramdani, who spoke against the motion.

“I feel that the French ban has nothing to do with national unity and that it was tantamount to stigmatising Muslim women,” said the Paris-born freelancer. “The ban was based on several myths such as threat to security and oppression of Muslim women. It involves a denial of religious freedom and the freedom of expression, as pointed out by organisations like the Amnesty International,” she said.

But, Farzana Hassan, author and women’s rights activist, joined Myard to support the motion by saying that the Muslim face veil—Burqa—posed a real security threat and could be used as a cover up by terrorists and suicide bombers.

She argued that face veil was antithetical to Islam as it degraded the position of women.

“Radicalisation is growing stronger. Face veil has become a political statement,” she said and argued that “the ban on the veil will promote integration.”

Mehdi Hassan, senior political editor of the UK publication the New Statesman, came out against the French decision.

“The ban is unnecessary, self-defeating and morally wrong. It is unnecessary because those wearing the face veil in France are a very small, negligible minority,” he said. “The ban is self-defeating in the sense that it would further alienate the Muslim community. To enforce on women what to wear and what not to wear is against the fundamental human rights and thus morally wrong.”

In the question and answer session, several participants and the panelists opposing the motion wondered why France was obsessed with the face veil, while the country had more important issues to tackle.

“Muslims in France are discriminated against in employment, housing and other areas. We wonder why the government does not take up such serious issues,” Hassan said.

He said that the French ban should be viewed in a wider European perspective and as an anti-Muslim campaign waged by right-wing extremists in the West.

         

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About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Career
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
Education
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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