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ANCHOR JENNIFER MECKLES
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Freedom of religion versus freedom from religion -- that's the ongoing debate in France now, as a law banning Muslim burqas -- or, veiled face coverings -- goes into effect Monday.
France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim population. Only around 2,000 women wear the veils--not many considering there’s an estimated four to six million Muslims in France. Neighboring countries also sometimes see the practice as a form of radical Islam. (Video: NBC)
Burqas and niqabs will be banned in public places, like restaurants, schools, and public transportation. So, how will France enforce such a ban? The Telegraph reports -- it won’t be by handcuffs:
“Under the new law, women who wear face-covering Muslim veils... face being fined £125 or ordered to follow citizenship classes, or both... Husbands and fathers who force such veils on women and girls risk a year of prison and a £25,000 fine, with both penalties doubled if the victim is a minor.”
The fine, £125, calculates to just over $200 US. And £25,000 -- nearly $41,000!
France is a secular country -- insistent upon separation of church and state since the early 1900s. Leading up to Monday’s ban, French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party held a debate on secularism. But all this has media outlets wondering if it’s just a political ploy?
“The enactment of the law and the opening of the secularism debate come a year before French presidential elections, with a survey... showing late last month that Sarkozy doesn’t have enough support to make it through to the second round of the vote."
The BBC says, maybe --- but there COULD BE a real problem with immigrant assimilation into French society:
“Some politicians see it is a vote winner - and that may be true. But as Muslims become more visible, there is a concern that some of them are pushing separate identities. And that could lead to parallel, rather than integrated communities.”
American media -- used to the idea of freedom of... well, everything -- has struggled to report this story without bias. But in an Op-Ed for the Los Angeles Times, one writer explains how to look at this issue from both sides:
“We may not like their choice. We may find it disturbing and offensive. But it is, in its way, as much a form of free expression as cartoons of Mohammad, which these women, in turn, will find disturbing and offensive. And that's the deal in a free society: The bur[q]a wearer has to put up with the cartoons; the cartoonist has to put up with the bur[q]as.”
In addition to the ban, the French Interior Minister Claude Guéant says the government wants to reduce the number of immigrants allowed to enter the country legally -- for either work, or family reasons.
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