The French Senate is considering a bill that would ban not simply burqas, but the public wearing of any face veil. The bill has already passed the National Assembly, the lower house of the French Parliament, and is expected to be voted upon by the Senate this month.
Ensuring gender equality, woman's dignity and security are the official reasons France wants to outlaw Islamic veils, most often worn as "niqabs" that hide all but the eyes. Authorities insist the global ban — which would include visiting foreigners — is not anti-Muslim.
That some other European countries like Belgium are considering similar legislation — and Muslim countries like Syria and Egypt have instituted their own limited bans on face veils — may help bolster the French argument, but not win the debate.Moderate Muslim leaders in France and elsewhere agree that Islam does not require women to cover their faces, but many are uncomfortable with banning the veil. Scores of religious leaders have denounced the measure, and are struggling with what to advise the faithful.
The issue if obviously complex since some argue that the veil represents a very public symbol of societally-sanctioned subjugation of women. If women are required to have their face covered in public, as in Saudi Arabia, then that interpretation is almost certainly correct. However, if a woman chooses to cover her face, for whatever reason, it is hard to discern why she should be prohibited from doing so.
UPDATE--the French Senate did pass the bill banning the wearing of veils in public. If upheld Constitutionally by a panel of judges, it will become law early in 2011.