Paris France’s justice minister went before parliament Tuesday to defend a hotly debated bill that would ban burqa-style Islamic veils in public, arguing that hiding your face from your neighbors is a violation of French values.
Michele Alliot-Marie’s speech at the National Assembly marked the start of parliamentary debate on the bill. It is widely expected to become law, despite the concerns of many French Muslims, who fear it will stigmatize them. Many law scholars also argue it would violate the constitution.
The government has used various strategies to sell the proposal, casting it at times as a way to promote equality between the sexes, to protect oppressed women or to ensure security in public places.
Alliot-Marie argued that it has nothing to do with religion or security — she argued simply that life in the French Republic “is carried out with a bare face.”
“It is a question of dignity, equality and transparency,” she said in a speech that avoided mentioning the words “burqa” or “Islam.” Officials have taken pains to craft language that does not single out Muslims: While the proposed legislation is colloquially referred to as the “burqa ban,” it is officially called “the bill to forbid covering one’s face in public.”
Ordinary Muslim headscarves are common in France, but face-covering veils are a rarity — the Interior Ministry says only 1,900 women in France wear them.