French Language Blog

The Burqa Ban in Belgium Posted by on Apr 30, 2010 in Culture, Vocabulary

Aujourd’hui, on va aborder (today we’re going to tackle) un sujet assez chaud (a pretty hot subject). I know this blog is about la langue et la culture françaises, and I hope you’re learning both from reading it. Today’s topic is at the center of la discussion actuelle (the current discussion) on French culture and identité.


Yesterday, jeudi 29 avril, la Belgique (Belgium) became the first country in Europe to ban the wearing of the niqab, or full-face veil, in public spaces (“interdire le port du voile islamique intégral dans tout l’espace public”). Recent French législation has indicated that public displays of religiosity are menaces (threats) against la laïcité (secularism), l’égalité et la liberté des citoyens (equality and the freedom of citizens). Without trying to résoudre ce conflit, let’s explore some of the ideas (et le vocabulaire) behind ces questions.

France is un état laïque, meaning it has a separation between church and state. La laïcité (secularism) is defined as « le principe de séparation des pouvoirs politiques et administratifs de l’État du pouvoir religieux, » the principle of separation of political and administrative state powers from religious power. It is considered central to la protection des droits des citoyens (the protection of citizens’ rights), voire (even) la protection des principes démocratiques d’une société libre (the protections of democratic principles in a free society).

The Belgian ban is officiellement “motivé par la nécessité d’assurer la sécurité publique” (see Les députés belges interdisent le port du voile intégral). While it is officially to ensure public safety, le député Denis Ducarne also said that the law was un témoignage (a testimony) that there is “un élément de fierté à être Belge”: an element of pride in being Belgian.

Voici la difficulté. The full-face veil is seen as both an infringement on le droit des femmes (women’s rights) and the classic identité européenne (European identity). Les législateurs belges put forth two main arguments for the new law: dignité de la femme(women’s dignity) et les “principes démocratiques principaux” (fundamental democratic principles). The veil is perceived as opposing these principles. It’s not clear how this conflit culturel will be resolved, but it is peu probable (unlikely) that la Belgique will be the only country to enact legislation.

La laïcité, or secularism, was le thème of my first exposé, or class presentation, en France. In an exposé, a student has to present both sides of a debate. Mine ended, « Force est de constater que la laïcité est une défense des principes de la démocratie mais aussi un raccourcissement des droits des citoyens. » We must state that secularism is a defense of democratic principles, but also a restriction of the rights of citizens. A law specifically limiting the religious freedom of one group is something to be handled carefully by any democracy. It will be interesting to see where France takes this.

En savoir plus : Articles on la question du voile in Europe and the US/UK.

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  1. cindi:

    timely discussion, thanks

  2. Arvind Singh:

    In my view banning something like the burqa may not be the most effective initiative to fortify security measures. All it would do is hurt the sentiments of a community that is now forced to abide by the law and perhaps go against its own beliefs in the process.

  3. Glenda Beckk:

    i made a funny video about the burqa ban.

  4. Paul:

    Here’s one woman’s protest against the ban. The incredible video can be seen here: