Excerpt:

It is a measure of France's confusion about Islam and its own Muslim citizens that in the political furor here over "banning the burqa," as the argument goes, the garment at issue is not really the burqa at all, but the niqab.

A burqa is the all-enveloping cloak, often blue, with a woven grill over the eyes, that many Afghan women wear, and it is almost never seen in France. The niqab, often black, leaves the eyes uncovered.

Still, a movement against it that started with a Communist mayor near Lyon has gotten traction within France's ruling center-right party, which claims to be defending French values, and among many on the left, who say they are defending women's rights. A parliamentary commission will soon meet to investigate whether to ban the burqa — in other words, any cloak that covers most of the face.

The debate is indicative of the deep ambivalence about social customs among even a small minority of France's Muslim citizens, and of the signal fear that France's principles of citizens' rights, equality and secularism are being undermined.


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