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France commission begins hearing proposed burqa ban testimony

[JURIST] A commission created by the French National Assembly [official websites, in French] began hearings Wednesday to consider whether to enact laws banning the wearing of burqas [JURIST news archive] or other "full veils." The commission heard testimony from anthropologist Dounia Bouzar [video, in French; TIME profile] who suggested that a broad ban on covering one's face to conceal identity is preferable to a law that singles out Muslims. Bouzar said that the recent popularity of the burqa amongst French Muslims was due to religious "gurus" who have misconstrued the teachings of Islam. The commission also heard from University of Nice [academic website, in French] philosopher Abdennour Bidar [video, in French], who urged the commission to find a way to prevent the spread of the practice, though he was unsure whether this goal is best accomplished through legislation.

The commission was established [JURIST report] last month, after French President Nicolas Sarkozy [official website, in French; JURIST news archive] strongly criticized the practice [transcript, PDF, in French], saying that "the burqa is not welcome in France." The controversy between the Muslim community and the French government over the burqa has existed for several years. In December 2008, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] unanimously ruled [JURIST report] that there was no human rights violation when a French school expelled two students for refusing to remove their headscarves. Last July, a Muslim woman's citizenship application was denied [JURIST report] because she failed to assimilate to French culture and she practiced a type of Islam found incompatible with French values. In 2004, France passed a law [JURIST report] banning students from conspicuous religious items, including Muslim headscarves, in schools.

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