The French government says it may impose restrictions on wearing the burqa, or face-and-body-covering veil, if a parliamentary probe finds the garment degrading for women. The burqa debate is dividing politicians and the Muslim community.
Government spokesman Luc Chatel became the latest politician to wade into a growing debate over the burqa in France, telling French television on Friday the government may consider curbs on wearing the head-to-toe garment if it is found to be degrading for women.
A group of nearly 60 French lawmakers are asking for a parliamentary panel to consider restrictions on the burqa, which is also called the niqab.
Burqas are not at all common in France, but women can occasionally be spotted wearing them in the streets. And in this staunchly secular country, the garment has sparked a fierce debate, dividing the center right government and even the Muslim community. Many, like immigration minister Eric Besson, are airing their views in a series of radio and television interviews.
Besson is against banning the burqa. He says France already bars female civil servants from wearing veils or headscarves to work and girls wearing them to school. He supports education and dialogue, rather than more laws, to persuade women from wearing burqas.
But Cities minister Fadela Amera - a Muslim of Algerian background - is for legislation.
Amara says it's important to fight against extremism and she supports banning the burqa in France.
The head of the Paris Grand Mosque, Dalil Boubakeur, is also against the burqa.
Boubakeur says that Islam in France must be an open Islam. He says there's no need for women to hide behind the veil. But France's main French Council for the Muslim Religion is against a parliamentary inquiry into wearing the burqa, saying it stigmatizes Islam and Muslims.
The debate over the veil is an old one in France. The government's 2004 ban on headscarves and other religious symbols in public schools was highly controversial. Other European countries are also troubled by the burqa. The Dutch government for one has been pushing for a law to ban it.