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May 26, 2011 Special Dispatch No. 3868

French Ambassador to Pakistan Defends Veil for Pakistani Women: 'In Pakistan, The Niqab Is Part Of The Culture; I Fully Respect It'

May 26, 2011
Pakistan | Special Dispatch No. 3868

In an op-ed in a leading Pakistani newspaper, the French Ambassador to Pakistan Daniel Jouanneau defended the French government's decision to ban the wearing of the veil in France.

In the article, titled "Niqab and French Social Pact," Jouanneau also sought to defend the wearing of the veil for Pakistani women, stating: "In Pakistan, the niqab is part of the culture and traditions in several areas. As a foreigner, I fully respect it. But this garment is totally alien to our culture and our traditions."

However, Ambassador Jouanneau noted that the Koran does not make the wearing of the veil compulsory for Muslim women, stating: "During the parliamentary hearings [before the ban], the Muslim representative stressed that the situation would have been completely different had the Koran made the wearing of the niqab compulsory." He clarified that the French ban is not against Islam, stating: "This law is certainly not targeting Islam."

It should be noted that the words "burqa," "niqab," and "hijab" are used interchangeably to mean an Islamic veil that covers the face, while another word, "jilbab," refers to a type of veil that covers the whole body of a Muslim woman, including her face. In South Asia, another word, "purdah," (covering) is used to denote Muslim and Hindu women's practice of covering themselves by a loose scarf, but not necessarily covering the face.

Following are excerpts from the French ambassadors' article:[1]

"A lot has been written in the print media about the French law prohibiting 'the concealment of the face in public,' now effective in France. While some comments express understanding for the reasons behind the law, most of them show surprise and disagreement.

"First, one important [note]. This law only prevents people from covering their faces, and so, as far as the French Muslims are concerned, it only prevents the wearing of the burqa and the niqab. It is not at all about the hijab.

"Why did the French Parliament consider it necessary to pass such a law? And why was it unanimously approved? The answer is very simple: more and more people in France were disturbed and worried when they saw a growing number of women wearing the niqab. In Pakistan, the niqab is part of the culture and traditions in several areas. As a foreigner, I fully respect it. But this garment is totally alien to our culture and our traditions.

"In order to address this situation, our government decided to launch an extensive national debate. A special all-parties parliamentary committee heard of hundreds of persons, lawyers, religious leaders, sociologists, human rights activists, including a significant number of Muslim scholars. Many of them looked at the niqab as a symbol of self-exclusion, contradicting the principle of equality between genders, which is essential for us. Then a bill was drafted, taking into account all the relevant recommendations. It was voted on by the elected representatives of the French people. It is now the law of our country.

"Maybe only 2,000 women are currently wearing the niqab. But it is not about numbers; it is a matter of principle. Maybe they have freely chosen to wear the niqab, but they live in a society where everybody wants to see everybody's face.

"This law is certainly not targeting Islam. During the parliamentary hearings, the Muslim representative stressed that the situation would have been completely different, had the Holy Koran made the wearing of the niqab compulsory.

"France is home to the largest Muslim community in Europe, approximately 5 million people. Islam is thus the second religion in my country. There are more than 2,000 mosques and prayer rooms; one grand mosque has recently been inaugurated; another one is being built. There are in France elected institutions representing the Muslim faith.

"Alongside with our government, they work hard for a successful integration of the Muslim community in the French society. Many of them understand the necessity of the ban, because in a European context, wearing the niqab may create Islamophobic reactions. As the Chairman of the French Council of Muslim Faith said: 'The wearing of the burqa or niqab is not a religious prescription. It is an extreme practice that we don't want to see growing on the national soil. It prevents women from having a normal social life.'"

 

Endnotes:

[1] Daily Times (Pakistan), April 27, 2011. The text of the article has been mildly edited for clarity.

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