On June 22, 2009, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France arrived at Versailles Palace to address legislators, the first presidential appearance before Parliament since 1875. To protect the independence of lawmakers, presidents had been barred from entering Parliament since Charles Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte’s reign. Reforms carried out by Sarkozy’s party last summer, though, opened the way for him to speak to Parliament. (1)
Mr. Sarkozy entered through rows of French guards with raised swords and plumed helmets, then delivered an American-style state-of-the-nation address. In a sober, far-ranging speech, he spoke about the economy and his vision for the future of France. He saved his strongest comments for the most hotly-debated social issue in France: the burqa. The burqa is a Muslim head-to-toe garment that some women wear to cloak their bodies and faces. Sarkozy’s declaration, “The burqa is not welcome in France,” was met with enthusiastic applause.
“We cannot accept to have in our country women who are prisoners behind netting, cut off from all social life, deprived of identity,” Sarkozy told Parliament. “”That is not the idea that the French republic has of women’s dignity. The issue of the burqa is not a religious issue. It is a question of freedom and of women’s dignity,” Mr. Sarkozy said. The burka is not a religious sign. It is a sign of the subjugation, of the submission, of women.”
Mr Sarkozy gave his backing to the establishment of a parliamentary commission to study the burqa and methods to stem its spread. In 2004, France banned Islamic headscarves in its state schools. France is home to five million Muslims, the largest Muslim population in Western Europe.
(1) “Sarkozy Backs Drive to Eliminate the Burqa.” The New York Times, June 23, 2009.