- Title: ALGERIA: European debate on burqa meets opposition among some Algerian Muslims
- Date: 13th May 2010
- Summary: TRAFFIC IN SQUARE
- Embargoed: 28th May 2010 13:00
- Location: Algeria
- Country: Algeria
- Topics: Legal System,International Relations
- Reuters ID: LVABJ2EP9CBQXTNVWAJHKIOCKK53
- Story Text: The move in France and other parts of Europe towards banning the full Islamic face veil in public has stirred fierce debate across the Mediterranean Sea in Algeria, where many of France's Muslims trace their origins.
For some people in Algeria, the discussion in Europe on banning the veil, also known as the burqa or niqab, is evidence of a racist push.
Sheikh Abdelfetah Zeraoui, a cleric in Algeria who belongs to the ultra-conservative Salafist strain of Islam, told Reuters that the campaign to ban full face veil was led by extreme rightwing groups in Europe. It represents racial discrimination against Muslims and is an infringement of the liberties of Muslim women, he said.
"This treatment in reality is an example of religious, urban and civilian discrimination against Muslim women and against their personal privacy and liberty," Zeraoui said.
He warned that Muslim women might become suicide bombers if legislation against the burqa were passed in European countries.
"By vilifying every Muslim woman wearing the burqa, she will either blow herself up or endanger the security of European countries," he said.
In retaliation for a burqa ban in European nations, Western women would be obliged to wear the Muslim veil in Muslim countries, Zeraoui said. "We will defend our honour by obliging the European women to wear the Muslim veil in our countries," he told Reuters.
One young woman from Algiers said all religions should be revered in equal measure in European societies. "They say they have democracy, so they have to respect all the religions: the Jewish, the Christian and the Muslim religions," the young woman, Souad, said.
Just as in Muslim communities in Europe, women in North Africa who wear full face veils are a small minority. Many women wear the hijab, which covers the head but leaves the face exposed. A sizeable minority go uncovered.
Houda, another resident of Algiers, wears a full burqa that covers her from head to toe, with only her hands exposed.
"Of course I don't agree (with the European move to ban the veil). But the Muslim veil is worn in Muslim countries, and we cannot oblige them to apply our religion," she said.
France, home to the European Union's largest Muslim minority, is planning to debate a draft law to ban all face veils in public on the grounds that they are demeaning to women, even though legal experts have warned that such a prohibition could violate religious freedom.
The draft legislation also says that everyone must keep their face uncovered when using public services to permit identification.
Belgium's lower house of parliament last month approved a bill to ban wearing the full Islamic face veil in public, though it still has to be passed in the upper house.
The Dutch government is set to retreat from a plan for a general ban on Muslim veils, but will stop women wearing them in schools and government offices.
In Italy a 1975 law punishes with fines and up to two years in jail those who cover their face with anything that prevents their identification by police.
Several human rights organisations have spoken out against a general prohibition on veils such as the burqa and the niqab.
A committee of the Council of Europe, a European human rights body based in Strasbourg, said on Tuesday (May 11) it opposed such a ban.
Former French colonies Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia are still tied to France by history, language and migration, so their views on the "burqa" issue could have a direct influence on how Muslims inside France react to a ban.
Many secular-minded people in North Africa sympathise with European moves to ban the face veil, seeing an echo of their own concerns that hardline Islamists in their countries are becoming too powerful.
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