Le Pen call for religious headwear ban criticised


FRENCH FAR-RIGHT leader Marine Le Pen has been rebuked by political opponents after she called for a ban on the wearing in public of Muslim veils and Jewish skullcaps.

Insisting secularism was “non-negotiable”, Ms Le Pen said religious headwear, including the Jewish kippa, should be banned “in shops, on public transport and on the streets”. Tensions have been running high this week since the publication by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo of cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad. French embassies and schools in 20 countries were closed yesterday as a precaution against possible violent protests.

Ms Le Pen defended the magazine’s right to publish the drawings and said France was paying the price for “years of laxity and weakness” in standing up for its principles.

She repeated calls for bans on public prayers, kosher and halal foods in schools, and government financing of mosques in France. “Laïcité (France’s secular model) is a non-negotiable value, just like liberty. Every time we allow it to weaken, we lay the ground for new claims,” she told Le Monde.

The suggestion that veils and skullcaps should be banned in public drew criticism from all the major parties. “Everything that tears people apart, opposes them and divides them is inappropriate,” said President François Hollande, although he added that “we must apply the rules of the Republic and of laïcité”.

Jean-François Copé, who leads the right-wing UMP party of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, said Ms Le Pen showed little understanding of France’s secular traditions. “Laïcité is not the eradication of all religious expressions in society,” he said.

Police across France have been ordered not to allow any street protests against the cartoons. Interior minister Manuel Valls said permission had been refused for an Islamist protest planned for Paris today and said all other such demonstrations would be broken up.

The drawings stoked an existing furore over an anti-Islam film made in California, which provoked sometimes violent protests in several Muslim countries, including attacks on US and other Western embassies, the killing of the US envoy to Libya and a suicide bombing in Afghanistan.

When he confirmed the ban on protests yesterday, Mr Valls also said, in an apparent response to Ms Le Pen: “Neither will I allow street prayers, which have no place in this republic. And naturally the law will apply to anyone who wears the full-face veil.”

Some 450 fines of €150 have been issued since a ban on the wearing of face-covering veils in public was introduced by Mr Sarkozy’s government in April 2011.

The initial print run of Charlie Hebdo sold out within minutes on Wednesday, making it the best-selling issue since February 2006, when it also published Muhammad cartoons. A second run was rushed out yesterday, but the editors, who are under police protection, dismissed critics who accused them of deliberately provoking controversy to sell more copies.

“If Charlie Hebdo wanted to make a quick buck, it would not produce Charlie Hebdo,” they said.