France rejects Muslim woman over radical practice of Islam

From The Guardian

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

Saturday July 12, 2008

A woman in a burqa

A woman wearing a burqa. France has denied citizenship to a Moroccan woman who wears a burqa on the grounds of ‘insufficient assimilation’. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

France has denied citizenship to a Moroccan woman who wears a burqa on the grounds that her “radical” practice of Islam is incompatible with basic French values such as equality of the sexes.

The case yesterday reopened the debate about Islam in France, and how the secular republic reconciles itself with the freedom of religion guaranteed by the French constitution.

The woman, known as Faiza M, is 32, married to a French national and lives east of Paris. She has lived in France since 2000, speaks good French and has three children born in France. Social services reports said she lived in “total submission” to her husband. Her application for French nationality was rejected in 2005 on the grounds of “insufficient assimilation” into France. She appealed, invoking the French constitutional right to religious freedom and saying that she had never sought to challenge the fundamental values of France. But last month the Council of State, France’s highest administrative body, upheld the ruling.

“She has adopted a radical practice of her religion, incompatible with essential values of the French community, particularly the principle of equality of the sexes,” it said.

“Is the burqa incompatible with French citizenship?” asked Le Monde, which broke the story. The paper said it was the first time the level of a person’s personal religious practice had been used to rule on their capacity be to assimilated into France.

The legal expert who reported to the Council of State said the woman’s interviews with social services revealed that “she lives almost as a recluse, isolated from French society”.

The report said: “She has no idea about the secular state or the right to vote. She lives in total submission to her male relatives. She seems to find this normal and the idea of challenging it has never crossed her mind.”

The woman had said she was not veiled when she lived in Morocco and had worn the burqa since arriving in France at the request of her husband. She said she wore it more from habit than conviction.

Daniele Lochak, a law professor not involved in the case, said it was bizarre to consider that excessive submission to men was a reason not to grant citizenship. “If you follow that to its logical conclusion, it means that women whose partners beat them are also not worthy of being French,” he told Le Monde.

Jean-Pierre Dubois, head of France’s Human Rights League, said he was “vigilant” and was seeking more information.

France is home to nearly 5 million Muslims, roughly half of whom are French citizens. Criteria taken into account for granting French citizenship includes “assimilation”, which normally focuses on how well the candidate speaks French. In the past nationality was denied to Muslims who were known to have links with extremists or who had publicly advocated radicalism, but that was not the case of Faiza M.

The ruling comes weeks after a controversy prompted by a court annulment of the marriage of two Muslims because the husband said the wife was not a virgin as she had claimed to be.

France’s ban on headscarves and other religious symbols in state schools in 2004 sparked a heated debate over freedom and equality within the secular republic. The French government adheres to the theory that all French citizens are equal before the republic, and religion or ethnic background are matters for the private sphere. In practice, rights groups say, society is plagued by discrimination.

The president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has stressed the importance of “integration” into French life. Part of his heightened controls on immigrants is a new law to make foreigners who want to join their families sit an exam on French language and values before leaving their countries.

2 thoughts on “France rejects Muslim woman over radical practice of Islam

  1. Cherie

    Its interesting how particularism camourflages racism in dominating an economically subordinate group. But, Morcoccan’s are not a subordinate group in France – they should have citizenship. The 2005 civil unrest in France saw a series of riots and violent clashes, in various parts of France – called for a State of Emergency – the biggest riots France saw since 1968. Hence, concerns for full citizenship. The New York Times reported 5/12/2005, that majority of offenders committing the crimes are the acts of Musim. In 2005 alone, 10% to 13% (6-8 million) citizens or residents of France, were Muslim. The National Front were surprising popular among Muslim immigrants for extending their support in stiking an alliance – and support of citizenship. It was only in 2007 that the United Nations released ‘Press Statement’ by UN expert calling for committment in Leadership to promote non-discimination, equality and diversity in France. She called for France Govt. to respond with policies that address widespread, entrenched and instiutionalized discrimination in France society…where racism is alive, insidious and clearly targeted at visible minorities of immigrant heritage. She raised the concern that there is widespread feeling within community of minorites that to become citizen of France is not sufficient for full acceptance and that full acceptance will be granted only with total assiilation, that forces them to reject major facets of their identity. Which raises the fact in the legal case above, ‘how does one find way to shed the colour of their skins, hide the manifestations of their religion or the traditions of their ancesters?’ Surprising….France new Ministry of Immigration, National Identity, Integration and Co-development have not heeded United Nations Expert Research…instead, clearly – see the presence and increase of immigrant Musilims a treat to the national identity of France…this is a problem, they clearly do not want to solve. The burqa the women wore…clearly – an excuse to exclude citizenship.

  2. Erika_213

    I’m of two minds with regard to this story. On the one hand Faiza speaks French, has lived in and given birth to children in France. She chooses however to wear a form of ‘religious’ dress that clearly denotes female submission and is quite candid about her isolation from French society. It is of no consequence to her that she is not her husband’s equal. Unfortunately it is of the utmost importance to the French government (or so they say). Their claim that her radical practice of Islam fails to coincide with French values may seem somewhat weak, but perhaps we should look at this from another angle. Immigration is a highly contentious issue, particularly in France. Any migrant that voluntarily chooses to leave their homeland must make sacrifices when beginning their new life. One must acclimatise to changes in diet, weather, language and culture etc. Sometimes this extends to religion and the observance of faith. So, what if Faiza decided to remove her religious garb – would she be better off? The burqa may be the physical representation of her radical form of religion, however removal does not wipe away the acquiescence she accepts behind closed doors. It is doubtful that she will ever assert herself against her husband and claim the rights that France entitles her. So then we may ask ourselves, is the burqa really that distressing, or is it the underlying culture and system of belief that is hard for the Council of State to swallow? Supposing we answer yes to latter; all major religions practice some form of sexual inequality, albeit in varying degrees. Perhaps we should stop nuns from wearing habits? So, by denying Faiza’s citizenship is the French government really helping to uphold their constitutional values or is it in fact allowing the abuse of her rights as a woman?

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