An outright ban of the wearing of the burka in France would help stem the spread of the “cancer” of radical Islam, according to the country’s Muslim minister for urban regeneration.
Fadela Amara, who is of Algerian descent, said the veil and headscarf combination covering everything but the eyes represented “the oppression of women, their enslavement, their humiliation”.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Ms Amara said she was “in favour of the burka not existing in my country”.
With sexual oppression and poverty, she said, Muslim women suffered “a third form of oppression – extreme religiosity, the presence of fundamentalist groups who continue to propagate their discourse”.
France was a beacon for an enlightened Islam at ease with modernity, so it was necessary to fight the “gangrene, the cancer of radical Islam which completely distorts the message of Islam”, she said.
To get rid of the burka would help women to stand up to the extremists within their communities, she argued.
“The vast majority of Muslims are against the burka. It is obvious why. Those who have struggled for women’s rights back home in their own countries – I’m thinking particularly of Algeria – we know what it represents and what the obscurantist political project is that lies behind it, to confiscate the most fundamental liberties.”
The sight of women wearing the burka, still a small minority, has stirred up an intense political debate in France. The country’s parliament last month set up a committee to look into the wearing of the burka and similar headwear, such as the niqab, and to determine whether it is compatible with France’s republican tradition of equality between men and women.
Some politicians, including Ms Amara, a former women’s rights campaigner, want an outright ban on the garment. President Nicolas Sarkozy said in June that the burka “will not be welcome on the territory of the republic”, although he stopped short of calling for its prohibition.
Ms Amara said she understood those who argued an outright ban would be difficult to apply. But she did not agree that prohibition would simply trap burka-wearing women behind closed doors.
The same arguments against such a ban were made when France introduced legislation against the wearing of the veil [and religious items such as crosses or skullcaps] in schools and by public employees in 2004. But the decision had helped Muslim women to face up to male chauvinism in their communities, Ms Amara said.
She also said she did not regard the burka as a religious symbol or as a piece of clothing but instead as an instrument of subordination used by Islamic fundamentalists.
Ms Amara added: “The burka represents not a piece of fabric but the political manipulation of a religion that enslaves women and disputes the principle of equality between men and women – one of the founding principles of our republic.”
Get alerts on News when a new story is published