In a speech to a joint session of the French Parliament yesterday, President Nicolas Sarkozy announced his opposition to the burqa, the head-to-toe garment worn by some Islamic women. “The burqa is not welcome in French territory,” said President Sarkozy. “In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity,” reported the Wall Street Journal. This speech, the first presidential address to the legislature in over a century, urged the Parliament to examine the practice of Muslim women in France wearing the burqa.
Sarkozy’s comments were in response to a call by 65 members of Parliament for a commission to determine whether the burqa undermines the secular tradition and women’s rights, according to the Telegraph UK. Muslim lobbyist groups worry that a public government debate on the burqa may increase discrimination against Muslims in France.
In 2004 the French Parliament passed a law banning students from wearing veils and other religious symbols in public schools. Following yesterday’s speech, which also addressed the global economic crisis, the Parliament is expected to debate both the burqa and the niqab, a similar garment that has an opening for the eyes.