French Muslims' Veils Ignite Debate On Values

August 9, 2009

Author: Edward Cody

Source: The Washington Post

It was market day on Place Leon Sublet, the main square in this little working-class town southeast of Lyon. In the shadow of an old Catholic church, unhurried shoppers wandered the food stalls.

It could have been a portrait of France at its most traditional, except that many of the women wore robes down to their ankles and long scarves to conceal their hair.

Then along came a woman shrouded head to toe in black. Only her dark eyes were visible through a narrow slit in her veil, a portrait more reminiscent of Saudi Arabia than traditional France.

French people have long been accustomed to Muslim women wearing head scarves and long dresses. But the sight of women covered by black veils, increasingly frequent in some towns, has become the latest test of France's uneasy role as host to the largest Muslim population in Europe, nearly 6 million out of 64 million. Because of its stark distinction from the way European women dress, the full veil has generated a public outcry, becoming a symbol widely perceived as an assault on France's secular values.