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‘Burqas not welcome in France’

From the royal grounds of Versailles,President Nicolas Sarkozy of France on Monday addressed...

Written by New York Times | Versailles (france) |
June 23, 2009 3:46:29 am

From the royal grounds of Versailles,President Nicolas Sarkozy of France on Monday addressed a restive Parliament about his vision of France that included a withering critique of burqas as an unacceptable symbol of “enslavement”.

Taking up a divisive issue that has sparked intense debate in the country,Sarkozy said there was no room in the French republic for the burqas,garments that envelope women and mask their faces.

“The issue of the burqa is not a religious issue,it is a question of freedom and of women’s dignity,” Sarkozy said in a sober address in which he frequently looked at his notes. “The burqa is not a religious sign,it is a sign of the subjugation,of the submission of women… I want to say solemnly that it will not be welcome on our territory,” he said to enthusiastic applause.

His speech marked the first presidential appearance before Parliament since Charles Louis Napoleon Bonaparte,after 136 years.

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Traditionally,French presidents have been barred from entering the Parliament since 1875 to protect the independence of lawmakers. But with reforms instituted last summer through Sarkozy’s party,Parliament opened the way for him to speak directly to them.

Sarkozy gave his public support to a cross-party initiative by close to 60 legislators,who proposed a parliamentary commission to review the burqa and methods to combat its spread.

Mohammed Moussaoui,President of France’s Representative Muslim Council,said: “We were afraid of being stigmatised,but this didn’t happen. The President understood that the debate had taken Islamophobic undertones,and made sure to re-centre it,by repeating that Islam should be respected.”

Moussaoui called the burqa “an extremely marginal phenomenon” and said his group promotes a moderate practice of Islam. “When we meet women who wear it,we try to educate them,and explain to them that moderation is a better choice,” he said.

The Council,however,has spoken out against the need to conduct a study on burqa,saying that it risked stigmatising Islam and Muslims in France.

The issue was the most volatile of his 45 minute address,which pledged measures to alleviate the economic crisis,among them establishing a loan fund to finance the nation’s strategic priorities such as investments in education and training.

The “crisis is not finished”,he said. “We don’t know when it will end.” He pledged to guarantee “stability of our banking system”. He ruled out austerity measures for the nation to dig itself out of economic crisis,pledging to give laid off workers the benefit of a year’s salary.

“I will not increase taxes because an increase in taxes would delay the end of the crisis,” he said.

Through his speech,he also managed to touch on the cherished notion of early French retirements at 60,noting that by 2010 “all options will be examined”.

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