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Debate over Muslim veils in universities surfaces in France

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Last updated: Tuesday, February 17, 2015 11:22 PM

PARIS —  The debate over wearing a veil at public universities has resurfaced in France following several recent incidents in the country, France 24 reported.

Last week, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s political party Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) called for a ban on veils in public universities, according to the website.

Commenting on the suggestion, John Bowen, a professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, who specializes in the study of Islam said that it was “insulting.”

“This is another in a series of moves drawing symbolic boundaries, saying, ‘You may be perfect citizens, but we’ll never stop reminding you that you’re not totally integrated’,” Bowen said.

However, Lydia Guirous, the responsible for secular affairs at the UMP, said in a press release that, “Secularism doesn’t have to stop at the university doors.”

“Like public schools, public universities need to be sanctified and need to be neutral,” Guirous said.

So far, France passed a law banning the hijab in state primary and secondary schools.  It also bans the full Muslim veil or niqab.

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It is not the first time that the UMP has called for stricter measures regarding the Muslim headscarf.

Home to about five million Muslims, the largest community in continental Europe, France has a contentious history with the hijab, the head covering worn by some Muslim women.

In 2004, the country passed a law banning the hijab in state schools and in 2005 it passed a law banning the full Muslim veil.

Sarkozy has made clear in the past his support for more restrictive measures concerning hijabs. In 2009, he stated that the full Muslim face covering, or niqab, is “not welcome” in the country. More recently, he declared that the UMP would have a meeting to discuss Islam. — Al-Arabiya

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