February 1, 2010 / 4:45 PM / 9 years ago

French Catholic Church warns against Muslim veil ban

PARIS (Reuters) - The French Catholic Church warned Paris on Monday against banning Muslim full-face veils and said France must respect the rights of its Muslims if it wanted Islamic countries to do the same for their Christian minorities.

A woman wearing a niqab shops in a supermarket during the first day of winter sales in Leers, northern France, January 6, 2010. REUTERS/Farid Alouache/Files

Bishop Michel Santier, the top French Catholic official for interreligious dialogue, said very few women here wore full veils and Muslim leaders agreed it was not obligatory in Islam.

A parliamentary commission last week urged the National Assembly to pass a non-binding resolution condemning full veils and then work out a law banning them. Deputies say a total ban may not be legal but certain limits could be approved.

If Paris passed a law, Santier said, “the result could be the opposite of what is desired and lead to a reaction that increases the number of women wearing this garment.

“The French, including the Catholics among them, should not let themselves be gripped by fear or a ‘clash of civilisations’ theory,” he said in a statement calling for distinctions between the majority of peaceful Muslims and a minority of radicals.

“If we want Christian minorities in Muslim majority countries to enjoy all their rights, we should in our country respect the rights of all believers to practice their faith.

“A dialogue in truth among believers will help us go beyond mutual mistrust. The path will be long and hard,” he said.

The Vatican has long pointed to the rights of Muslim minorities in Western countries when pressing Muslim countries to allow more religious freedoms for Christian minorities there.

French Jewish leaders have also expressed concern about a veil ban and Santier regretted that the parliamentary commission did not invite Christian or Jewish leaders to give their views during the six-month-long hearings, which ended in December.

Claude Gueant, a top aide to President Nicolas Sarkozy, said on Sunday he doubted a total ban would be legally possible.

French police say about 1,900 women wear the full veils, known here as burqas although almost all are Arab-style niqabs showing the eyes. Critics say they must be outlawed as an insult to women’s rights and a sign of Islamic radicalism.

Editing by Jon Boyle

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