French citizenship denied to man with veiled wife

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said the Moroccan man, who had married a French woman, failed to respect the “values of the [French] republic” by forcing his wife to wear a burqa.

Christophe Ena / AP
A woman is shown wearing a burqa southwest of Paris, in this Jan. 12 photo.

President Nicolas Sarkozy's administration today took another shot at the burqa, scoring populist points ahead of France’s March elections, say analysts.

France’s immigration minister said he is refusing citizenship to a Muslim man who called his wife “an inferior being,” and forced her to wear a full veil in public, an announcement that plays well with French public support for a burqa ban.

“He has no place in our country,” Prime Minister Francois Fillon told Europe 1 radio, in a decision that comes a week after a French parliamentary commission recommended a partial ban on any veils that cover the face. The ban still needs to be voted on, but it would apply in hospitals and on public transport. France already has bans for wearing headscarves in state schools.

Fillon said the Moroccan man, who had married a French woman, failed to respect the “values of the [French] republic.”

“This case is about a religious radical: he imposes the burqa, he imposes the separation of men and women in his own home, and he refuses to shake the hands of women,” Fillon said.

The recent acts reflect Sarkozy’s efforts to capitalize on anti-burqa sentiment ahead of March’s regional election, Arthur Goldhammer, chair the seminar for visiting scholars at Harvard University’s Center for European Studies, said in an interview Wednesday.

“Sarokozy is certainly agitating this issue with the upcoming regional election in mind,” says Goldhammer, who also maintains the blog French Politics and is on the editorial board of the journal French Politics, Culture, and Society. “He has lost support in the polls from people who formerly voted for him and pledged their allegiance to him because of fairly strong statements he made on illegal immigration.”

In a June 2009 address to both houses of parliament at Versailles, Sarkozy called the burqa “a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement.”

In France, the argument against the burqa is presented not as an attack on Islam but a defense of women, Goldhammer says. Politicians label it a ‘walking prison for women.’

A complete ban could possibly be overturned by the European Court as a infringement on human rights. But with current support from 57 percent of French people for a ban on the burqa, Goldhammer says Sarkozy “looses nothing by [the recent actions] and he potentially gains the votes of people who have been drifting away.”

Some political observers say Sarkozy’s efforts are misplaced.

Writing for Forbes, columnist Emre Deliveli says the burqa ban will backfire.

“According to Interior Ministry figures and expert testimonies to the parliamentary commission, 1,900, or fewer than one in a thousand, Muslim women in France wear a burqa," Deliveli writes.

“As for curbing radical Islam, there is the risk that the law will lead to more proselytizing, not less, by stigmatizing Muslims. The converts among the burqa-wearers have already been boldly telling the French media how disappointed they are with the ban, and how they intend not to obey it.”

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