Muslim women in France may soon be prohibited from completely covering their faces in public areas.
A new law banning the wearing of the "burka," or "niqab," in public spaces passed Tuesday by a near-unanimous vote, 335 to 1, in the French National Assembly.
The bill is written in such a way as to prohibit anyone from wearing an item of clothing that will hide his or her face in open spaces. The term is defined to include streets, shops, parks or cafes, as well as public buildings, such as town or city halls, schools and hospitals. Those who defy the ban would be punished for the violation with a fine of 150 euros ($191).
Only 2,000 women from the five million-strong Muslim population are believed to observe the strict tradition of wearing the full face veil, which is seen by many as a symbol of oppression of women.
The sight of women clad in the burka on the streets of France is also viewed by most French politicians, as well as many moderate Muslims, as a sign of growing fundamentalism in the community. Among the average grassroots population, the garment is considered an insult to the secular French tradition and the country's constitution.
Some Muslim community leaders, however, suspect the law will backfire and stigmatize their brethren instead.
Legal wrangling over the measure has been tempered with the inclusion of language that prevents the ban from discriminating by gender, religion or specific item of clothing.
The bill now goes to the nation's Senate, where it is expected to pass a vote in September.
Reportedly the Belgian parliament is planning a similar move, and Spain is not far behind, with a measure already in the works to limit the wearing of garments that hide one's face in public buildings.
Proposal to Ban the Burka in Israel
Kadima Knesset member Marina Solodkin has proposed a bill to ban the burka in Israel as well.
The measure, according to Solodkin, is especially important in light of the fact that would-be terrorists are able to hide their identity behind the garment.
The idea of covering one's face in Israel harms the ethics of a modern society, Solodkin told the Hebrew-language newspaper Ma'ariv, and also constitutes a security threat.