PARIS – A French parliamentary panel will stop short of recommending a ban on face-covering veils in the street and instead will ask for the garb to be banned in public facilities such as hospitals, the panel's president says.
The 32-member panel's report due Tuesday culminates a six-month inquiry into the wearing of all-encompassing veils that began after President Nicolas Sarkozy said in June that they are "not welcome" on French territory.
Andre Gerin, a Communist lawmaker who heads the multiparty panel, said the report contains a "multitude of proposals" to ban such garb in places like schools, hospitals and other public buildings, but not private buildings or on the street.
Gerin stressed the need to move "progressively" toward a law banning the attire in the streets and to work "hand in hand" with Muslim leaders and associations.
A 2004 French law bans Muslim headscarves from classrooms.
Muslim religious leaders have warned that a law banning face-covering attire in the streets could stigmatize Muslims and drive some to extremism. They were joined last week by Roman Catholic and Jewish leaders who said they consider such a drastic step unnecessary.
France has Western Europe's largest Muslim population, estimated at some 5 million. Only a tiny minority of Muslim women wear such attire, usually a "niqab" pinned across the face to cover all but the eyes.
Critics of the veils call them a gateway to extremism, an insult to gender equality and an offense to France's secular system.
"It is perhaps a marginal problem, but it is the visible part of the iceberg," Gerin said in a recent interview. "Behind the iceberg is a black tide of ... fundamentalism." He denounced those he called "gurus" or "French Taliban" who, he claimed, promote a radical brand of Islam that forces women and girls to hide themselves.
Critics of a formal ban have raised concerns about the constitutionality of state mandates on dress.
"I don't think an ideology should be fought through constraining measures but through ideas," Mohammed Moussaoui, the head of a coalition of Muslim organizations, said in an interview. "It's very difficult to talk about the liberation of women through a law that constrains."