MONS-EN-BAROEUL, France — It was a match made in heaven, and both families approved. The groom was a computer engineer, the bride a nursing student. Children of Moroccan immigrants, they had thrived in French society and seemed at home with its ways
France rejects veiled Muslim wife
A French court has denied citizenship to a Muslim woman from Morocco, ruling that her practice of “radical” Islam is not compatible with French values.
The 32-year-old woman, known as Faiza M, has lived in France since 2000 with her husband – a French national – and their three French-born children.
Social services reports said the burqa-wearing Faiza M lived in “total submission to her male relatives”.
Faiza M said she has never challenged the fundamental values of France.
Her initial application for French citizenship was rejected in 2005 on the grounds of “insufficient assimilation” into France.
She appealed, and late last month the Conseil d’Etat, France’s highest administrative body which also acts as a high court, upheld the decision to deny her citizenship.
But on their wedding night, the groom discovered that his bride was not the virgin she had said she was. He stormed out of the bridal chamber. His father, outraged, said the marriage was off. That same night, he returned the young woman to her family home.
The drama in this middle-class suburb of apartment blocks and supermarkets, on the eastern edge of Lille in northern France, could have remained a private family affair — that is what its main protagonists desperately wanted. But instead, it set off a legal struggle with strong political undertones and an explosion of outrage by media-savvy activists in Paris. In the end, it became a parable for the strain France has encountered in absorbing the more than 5 million Muslims, about 8 percent of the population and growing, who have made this country their home.
As part of a national round of soul-searching, French leaders are recognizing with unusual frankness that the country needs to do more to promote integration of Muslims and other children of immigrants. PresidentNicolas Sarkozy last week named Yazid Sabeg, a successful businessman born to Algerian immigrants, to head a government department assigned to get more minority candidates into politics and more minority students into the elite academies that turn out France’s leadership class.
“We must change,” Sarkozy declared.
What The Hell Is This Girl Playing With?
Amar Lasfar, president of the Islamic League of the North, said part of the problem is that only now have French leaders come to grips with the idea that many Muslims are no longer temporary migrant workers but citizens, like the couple here, who intend to spend their lives in France. “Nobody was prepared for this,” he said at the Lille mosque where he is rector.
Sarkozy, the son of a Hungarian immigrant, has gone further than his predecessors. He named Rachida Dati, the daughter of Algerian immigrants, as his justice minister; Fadela Amara, also of Algerian heritage, as a junior minister for urban affairs; and Rama Yade, who was born in Senegal, as a junior minister to promote human rights abroad. Dati’s ascension marked the first time such a senior post went to a minority figure with visible roots in North Africa.
Although not all immigrants in France are Muslims, the group has generated the most sensitive problems, particularly at a time when the country is battling threats from Islamist extremists inspired by al-Qaeda. At the same time Sarkozy was announcing his integration initiative, for instance, police arrested seven people suspected of belonging to radical Islamist groups, including a branch of al-Qaeda in North Africa.
Moreover, even Muslims born in France have often clung to traditions that set them apart, to the resentment of conservatives reluctant to see the country’s ethnic stock evolve or its Christian traditions diluted. After an impassioned political debate and several judicial rulings over the past decade, Muslim girls were forbidden to wear veils in public schools.
Lasfar said the solution is for French people to embrace such Islamic traditions as an addition to their society, not a threat.
Ismail Kawashi, the son of Algerian immigrants who identifies himself as a “modern Muslim,” agreed but said Muslims here also have to respect the culture of their adopted country. Insisting on virginity for marriage, for instance, is “shameful” in this day and age, he said as he motored his taxi around Mons-en-Baroeul.
But such live-and-let-live attitudes have not been embraced by all. In the tension generated by Sarkozy’s remarks, vandals set fire to the entrance of a mosque in Lyon on Saturday. This month, 500 tombstones of Muslim French army veterans were painted with racist slogans at Notre Dame de Lorette Cemetery near Arras, southwest of here, including insults aimed at Dati.
Dati, a glamorous figure with a penchant for haute couture and expensive jewelry, was at the center of the storm over the unhappy wedding in Mons-en-Baroeul. In large part, her actions as minister were part of the incident’s transformation from provincial family feud to national cause.
The wedding took place July 8, 2006. Three weeks later, the groom, a naturalized citizen, went to court seeking an annulment. He based his argument on French law that says a marriage is invalid if there is an error concerning “the essential qualities” of one of the partners. The bride, a French-born citizen, associated herself with the annulment request; her lawyer explained that she just wanted to be done with the mess.
The procedure wound its way through the court system unnoticed until, in April this year, the Lille High Court handed down an annulment. The groom, judges said, clearly considered virginity to be an essential quality in his bride.
According to the groom’s lawyer, Xavier Labbée, things should have remained there. The bride, the groom and their families considered the ruling the best possible outcome given the circumstances, he said. Both young people, whose names were sealed, were free to pursue their lives separately.
(The attractive woman in black, seen here at the inauguration ceremonies, is Rachida Dati, the new Minister of Justice.)
Special to The Globe and Mail
As the first person of North African origin to hold a seat in the French government, Rachida Dati became an instant symbol of the new openness that President Nicolas Sarkozy said he was trying to encourage. Now her political career is threatened by her response to a national debate over how much French law should be influenced by its minorities, based on a court decision that reflects Ms. Dati’s own experience as a young Muslim woman struggling to make her way out of a ghetto north of the French city of Lyon.
The controversy began last week when a Paris newspaper revealed that a court in the northern city of Lille had annulled the marriage of a Muslim couple because the bride, 20, had lied to her husband, 32, about her virginity.
The judge did not cite the couple’s religion or the bride’s previous sexual experience but ruled that, under the French civil code, the young woman had breached the marital contract by being untruthful about what her husband considered “an essential quality decisive for [his] consent.” Feminists, philosophers and politicians of all stripes have united to condemn the decision as a step backward for equality and a dangerous step toward incorporating religious beliefs into the laws of a proudly secular state.
Women’s Minister Valerie Létard said the decision was a “regression of the status of women.” Fadela Amara, the minister in charge of France’s suburbs and herself a Muslim, called it a “fatwa against the emancipation of women.” Others warned the judgment would put pressure on young Muslim women in Europe to undergo surgery to reconstitute their hymens before they marry.
Although the Muslim community is growing throughout Europe, the issue of how well they have integrated has a special resonance in France, which has insisted that Muslims and other minorities adapt to the French culture rather than try to impose their own beliefs on French society. The discussion over this case has focused on fears that Islamist beliefs are slowly making their influence felt.
Muslim leaders have largely been silent. But thinkers such as Dounia Bouzar, a Muslim writer and philosopher known for her defence of modern Islam, questioned whether the same decision would have been made if the couple were Catholic. She said the judgment was a “victory for fundamentalists and for those who look at Islam as an archaic religion that treats women badly.”
Chantal Delsol, a Catholic neo-conservative philosopher, argued that the court ruling showed “the extent to which our institutions can be derailed by communities that do not subscribe to our convictions of liberty and equality.”
Ms. Dati, the daughter of Muslim North African parents, was isolated in refusing to ask for an appeal, arguing that an annulment is “a way of protecting someone who wishes to be free of a marriage.”
Legal experts say the appeals court will likely give in to public pressure and overturn the decision to annul the marriage. And that will have disastrous consequences for the young bride, her lawyer says, because the couple will be obliged to go through the often lengthy process of getting a divorce.
Charles-Edouard Maugersaid his client is in a “completely desperate” mental state because of the debate over the annulment and has stopped most of her daily activities. “She understands the controversy in society, but she feels she has become trapped.”
Faced with increasing pressure from other members of the government and accusations from all political parties that she was being soft on Islam, Ms. Dati finally gave in this week and asked the public prosecutor to appeal the decision on the grounds that “it could be said to have wider significance than the relationship between two individuals.”
Ms. Dati, who had little political experience when she was named Justice Minister, has been increasingly criticized in the French news media for mishandling this and other key issues and for her volatile personality. At least 10 of her advisers have quit. In the past few weeks Mr. Sarkozy and members of his government have started to show their displeasure. Last month, she was excluded from a meeting of Mr. Sarkozy’s closest cabinet members and, this week, Prime Minister François Fillon stepped in and answered questions that should have been directed at Ms. Dati.
In the National Assembly this week, Socialist Party member Arnaud Montebourg called for her resignation. “This is the story of a likeable personality who unfortunately is not up to the job,” he said.
WHY MR SARKOZY BAN THE BURQA FROM FRANCE?HE WANT THE MUSLIM GIRLS TO BE LIKEYASMINE LATIFFE (29-YEAR-OLD BORN IN PARIS, FRANCE) IS A FRENCH ACTRESS
Should Mr Sarkozy ban the burqa from France? Definitely not. Because bans are undemocratic and an unqualified attack on individual freedom. Should we however use this opportunity to question the efficacy of the burqa, the chador, the veil or what you will? Definitely yes. Specially since the burqa isn’t just another piece of cloth but has a lot of ideological and cultural connotations to it. The French President himself has termed it a symbol of subservience which has no place in a secular state.
Doesn’t it have religious connotations, you may also ask? But hey, just let’s keep religion out of this. Primarily because, as scholars point out, the Quran makes a mention of modesty rather than the word ‘burqa’ when it comes to women’s apparel. The veil has more a cultural significance in Islam than a theological one. The Quran categorically mentions that “the best garment is the garment of righteousness.” (7:26) And rigtheousness may or may not be interpreted as the burqa, depending on the personal choice of the person.
Talking specifically of a dress code, the text holds ‘chastity’ as mandatory, both for men and for women. A translation of the verses by Dr Rashad Khalifa’s states: “Tell the believeing men they shall subdue their eyes (and not stare at the women), and maintain their chastity. And tell the believing women to subdue their eyes and maintain their chastity.”
Now chastity is defined as a condition or quality of being pure or chaste. And righteousness is related to ethical conduct. Neither of these terms have a sartorial connection, having more to do to with states of mind and styles of behaviour, rather than a piece of clothing. While the burqa has found fervent advocates amongst its users, there have been strong cries against its proliferation in a progressive, modern world which is fast moving towards gender equality. In an age when men and women are perceived as equal, what exactly is the role of the burqa which well and truly wraps the woman in a cloak of invisibility. Understandably, there have been radical feminist protests against the veil from the Arab world itself. Prominent amongst them being the voice of Nawal El Sa’adawi, feminist and intellectual, who sees the movement for the veil as just another offshoot of the “the age-old patriarchal struggle over women’s heads, the fear that they might begin to think and throw off the bonds of slavery, of an inferiority enforced on them in all religions and in all societies…this was an integral part of their struggle to maintain men’s control over women, men’s control over their minds. This was above all the desire of Islamic fundamentalists to preserve the political power they exercise over society.”
While we would not like to take such a strident position against it, specially when it comes from free will, we would like to wonder why it is important for women to hide themselves when it is possible to dress decently, behave modestly, maintain chastity and be righteous without the veil too. Moreover, in societies — and circumstances — where women feel it is easier for them to maintain chastity more than the men, isn’t it time to abandon the veil even more. For any prevention against crimes against women does not lie in hiding women from untrustworthy men. The cure lies in moving towards a more gender sensitive society which is only possible if men stop looking at women as objects of gratification. A burqa is no guarantee for that. A healthier intermingling of the sexes and a more open society are the only surefire way of ensuring both modesty and equality.
But bans surely are not the way out Mr Sarkozy. Specially not in a democratic society.
Filed under Uncategorized
In fact, the groom had moved to a small town in the Alps, where he was quietly at work, and the bride was near graduation as a nurse in Paris. Then a juridical review published a scholarly analysis of the case. The rundown was noticed by an enterprising reporter and before long the news hit Paris — hard.
Dati, who herself had a marriage annulled as a young woman and now is about to give birth but is not married, at first pronounced the decision reasonable, saying it had nothing to do with Islam. Both parties to the marriage wanted the annulment, she noted, adding: “This young woman probably wanted to be separated pretty fast as well.”
But in the Paris world of political activism and careful posturing, she was alone. From the left and right came a barrage of criticism, suggesting that the decision had given French legal sanction to a Muslim’s demand that his bride be a virgin. Elizabeth Badinter, a longtime women’s rights campaigner, said she felt “shame” that such a court ruling could be handed down in France.
“This ends up simply pushing many young Muslim girls into hospitals to have their hymen reconstituted,” she said.
Laurence Rossignel of the Socialist Party’s secretariat for women’s rights qualified the decision as “amazing.”
“It violates the constitutional principles of equality between men and women and of nondiscrimination, because it cannot be rendered except against a woman,” she added. “It makes a mockery of the rights of women over their own bodies and to live their sexuality freely, the way men do.”
Dati was criticized even from within Sarkozy’s own party, the Union for a Popular Movement. Patrick Devedjian, then its secretary general, decried what he said was reintroduction of the Muslim tradition of “repudiation” of a bride into French law. Valérie Letard, junior minister for solidarity, called it “a blow against the integrity of women.”
Prime Minister François Fillon, Dati’s direct superior, said he did not want the decision to become jurisprudence and suggested that he would go as high as France’s supreme court if necessary to get it overturned.
Faced with the outcry, Dati reversed course and ordered prosecutors in Lille to appeal. “The annulment of a marriage by the High Court in Lille has generated a lively debate about our society,” the Justice Ministry explained in a statement. “This case surpasses the relationship between two people and concerns all citizens of our country, notably women.”
Sailing with the political winds, the regional Douai Appeals Court overturned the decision last month, saying virginity should not be considered an essential quality of the bride under French law. In effect, the bride and groom were remarried.
Higher appeal seemed likely to prove futile given the political atmosphere. The only reasonable recourse, legal scholars said, is divorce, a path lawyers said could dissolve the marriage again quickly.
Neither spouse has announced what they will do. But the legal situation is complicated by the groom’s marriage to another woman after the annulment in April, Lasfar said. In addition, the bride has brought suit against the groom for lack of respect, citing the public airing of her non-virginity.
Labbée, embittered by the outcry, blamed sensation-seeking journalists and politically correct Paris activists for what he called an unjustified reversal. The uproar, he said in a telephone conversation, has damaged two young people who just wanted to get on with their lives, outside the glare of commentary by people who do not know what they are talking about.
“They are ignorant and they didn’t understand,” he said of the protesters in Paris and the politicians who endorsed their outrage. “And because the two were Muslim, they got all worried about it. It was a man deceived by his wife, and now the whole planet is aware of it.”