Looking beyond the veil: France’s burka ban

Today marks an important moment in the history of the French Republic. Today is the day that a ban on the full Islamic veil comes into force in France. Women found wearing the either the niqab or the burka in public will be subject to a fine of 150 euros. The culmination of a lengthy and highly politicised process, the new law reveals the xenophobic currents that lie beneath the polished veneer of the French republican model.

The ban has provoked international controversy since it was initially debated in early 2010. International human rights organisations such as the Council of Europe and Amnesty International have condemned the ban as an impingement on the fundamental rights of certain women. What is surprising, however, is the apparent lack of controversy on the domestic political scene in France. In fact, arguments supporting the new law have crossed party lines and constructed unlikely alliances.


André Gerin, for example, the Communist deputy who chaired the parliamentary committee that recommended the ban, took his place alongside leading advocates on the right when he likened the full veil to a ‘portable coffin’. And the Socialist party, while uncomfortable with a full ban, largely agreed that some form of ban was necessary. In any case, the opposition to the full Islamic veil was clearly visible in the results of the parliamentary vote on the subject in July 2010: while 335 deputies voted for the law and a significant number abstained, only one deputy voted against the law.

What is perhaps most interesting about the whole debacle is the fact that only an estimated 2,000 of France’s some 2 million Muslim women wear the full facial covering. In other words, about 0.03% of the entire French population. So why has a law banning the full Islamic veil gained such support?

The ban on the veil has been a major project for President Sarkozy since 2009 when he chose to focus on the burka in his US-style ‘state of the union’ address. In the first ever presidential speech to simultaneously address both houses of French parliament, Sarkozy spoke of the ‘problem of the burka’ and declared that this ‘symbol of oppression’ was not welcome in France. Significantly, Sarkozy claimed that his gripe with the veil was not a religious one, but rather touched on a question of human rights.


The distinction here is crucial, for in positioning the debate in a human rights context, Sarkozy managed to reconcile an attack on the Islamic veil with the values of liberty and equality that are the cornerstones of the French republican model. Moreover, setting the parameters of the debate in this way had the twin effect of pre-empting criticism on the grounds of religious discrimination and making the law that was proposed shortly afterwards politically difficult to oppose.


But make no mistake; the question of human rights is not the primary motivating factor behind the ban on the veil. A study conducted by the At Home in Europe Project of the Open Society Foundation, released today, presents the findings of in-depth interviews with 32 women who wear the full veil in France. Of those interviewed the majority had themselves chosen to wear the veil, often against the wishes of their family. For many of these women, the decision to cover their faces forms part of a spiritual journey and, similar to the Catholic nuns who wear a headdress, the Islamic veil is a sign of their commitment to their faith. Of course there are isolated cases where women are coerced into wearing the veil, but coercion is a marginal element in this equation.

The real issues here are religion and, of course, politics. With regard to religion, the hostility towards the veil is representative of a more generalised opposition to Islam in France, an opposition that is grounded largely in fear. It is telling that much of the initial media commentary on the ‘burka law’ was accompanied by a description of the different types of Islamic head dress, complete with illustrations. The fact is, many people are ignorant of the complexities of the Islamic religion and hold perceptions that are coloured by a post 9/11 security climate that has brought about a blanket equation between Islam and fundamentalism.

Fear is easily translated into political currency and in France, the politics of fear has traditionally been the preserve of the far-right. No longer. More recently, the political rhetoric of the far-right has been matched by the mainstream right in a thinly-veiled attempt to poach voters from the Front National. Government sponsored debates on identity and secularism have inevitably come to focus on the question of Islam and the threat posed by an ‘inassimilable’ population. Only last week, the Interior Minister, Claude Guéant declared that the growth of Islam in France ‘posed a problem’.

The current drift of French society is dangerous for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that the new law on the veil has legitimised the discourse of the far-right. Ironically, in attempting to poach the Front National’s votes, Sarkozy’s government has given momentum to their cause. The Front National has been campaigning for years of an anti-Islamic platform. Now their cause has been taken up by those in power.

Ultimately, the new law, which the government claims will facilitate greater social cohesion, will simply serve to marginalise Muslim women, and indeed the Muslim community more generally, by stigmatising aspects of their religion. The ban on the Islamic veil has undermined the fundamental values on which the Republic is built. Laïcité, the French form of secularism, appears to have taken on its own religiosity and become hostile to the beliefs of others rather than tolerating them. In today’s France it appears that those ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity stand strong...just as long as you don’t wear a burka.

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"Government sponsored debates on identity and secularism have inevitably come to focus on the question of Islam and the threat posed by an ‘inassimilable’ population." True I too have noticed this change (or something like that) on the debates.
Apparently men are forcing women to wear the burka and this amounts to repression. So more men then force women not to wear the burka, and that doesn't amount to repression. one more note; does anyone think it might be less repressive and patronising all round if women were given the credit of having their own mind?
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How can symbols of faith like the burka and niquab have such positive connotations in the Middle East, and such a negative reception in France? The French View: Ban the burka. On the streets of France today there is a crisis of liberty vs liberalism. The French feel that they have already gone too far in accommodating Islamic ideology. To many French citizens the burka and niquab represent the most illiberal mode of dress conceivable. Being both offensive to women and men. To women, because it forces them to live their public lives under a black sack. To men, because it assumes them all to be potential rapists; unable to resist the temptation derived from so much as glimpsing a curvaceous hip or a bare ankle. They regard the attire as seventh century desert garments that have no place in twenty first century France. They are proud to have always been at the forefront of Western fashion. How you dress is an important mode of self-expression to the French, which they feel the Burka and niquab restrict. As passionate, exuberant communicators, the veil in particular, forms a barrier of communication to many French people, whose instinctive psychological reaction is one of distrust. Finally the French are very proud of their record on equality, many French feel any woman is relatively safe, free and equal there, and should assimilate to their culture not assert their own. However, if women in France are free and equal, why can’t they dress how they want? After all, isn’t religious freedom also protected in France? The Middle Eastern View: Every religion has a distinctive quality, and the distinctive quality of Islam is modesty. In most countries in the Middle East there is no strict separation of the church and state, as there is in France. The vast majority of citizens in those countries are practising Muslims. To Muslims, far from being a seventh century desert garment, the burka and niquab are the only garments that respect modesty in public. They don’t serve to conceal a woman’s identity. Being loose and thick they cover her shape and form. This removes any aspect of sexuality and in so doing allows that woman to be a person. To be judged on her ability and intelligence, rather than her appearance, which would be superficial and irrelevant. Citizens of the Middle East feel that this makes women more, rather than less free and equal. The Middle East does not have a tradition of painting portraits, strict interpretations of Islam forbid figurative artwork altogether. The face has a different currency in the Middle East, religious adherence naturally takes priority over self-expression. The spiritual focus, they feel safeguards them from the slippery moral slope represented by Western fashion. From an Islamic perspective, the padded bras and Playboy hot pants in the West are terrifying examples of that slippery slope, and how their religious choices protect them. However, if women can never express themselves as directly and forcefully as men in public, isn’t their concealment a slippery slope to their marginalisation? Could the Ayatollah Khomeini have expressed himself so forcefully and successfully, if he were addressing his audience from behind a veil? In my opinion, women should have the right to reveal as well as the right to conceal. This video shows some interesting views about the niquab ban: http://wordplayblog.co.uk/2011/04/niqab-ban-views/
why making big issue for burka in the muslim popilation few of them wearing burka same as nun wearing will see how long it will work
it is simple as that,if any women go to Iran,or Arab country they have to cover their hair and body because of law the other wise the police take them to prison or a fine them they have to pay and be coverd. in those country any women force to respect the law .why not here in France?although for security,The Mr..Sarkozy has down the write things and I hope whole Europe follow.
Why making such an issue out of it !! France really has the guts to come forward with this law which i think must be followed by every country. Muslims who are against that law should normally go back to their country of origin, SIMPLE !!!
Bravo Sarkozy hes the first to stand up for women .Some men can control him self and find a solution for keep women , jail the women in a burka,jail the women and cut the clitoris,and women slave.
Much like the Bible, the Islamic holy book, the Koran cals for a worldwide kingdom for the "endtimes" which will not come about according to Bible prophecy. As 1.5 million Moslems around the world observed the giving of the Koran by fasting during the day for the month of Ramadan, the Islamic doctrine of a worldwide caliphate or kingdom is understood by the Moslem world. Islamic doctrine says that Allah will lead this kingdom and the world will convert to Islam. Islamic eschatology states that prior to the kingdom, the Mahdi, the Moslem messiah returns to set the world in place for this global caliphate. The Bible, the Word of the true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus Christ reveals that Jesus Christ will indeed return to the earth to setup His Kingdom, Zechariah 6:12-13, Daniel 7:13-14 and Revelation 20:4-6. Before Jesus does setup His Kingdom, the Islamic world will be devastated, Ezekiel 38:18-39:5. Though European legislatures and even worldwide legislatures may try to stop the global spread of Islam, God's plan will be the way to victory.
Two thoughts, both of them cultural. What is it with these immigrants that desire to work in France but don't want to adopt the French culture -- thats really what the Burqa ban is about (not simply religion and politics although culture includes them both). The old saying "When in Rome do as the Romans do" seems to be ignored by many muslim immigrants almost to the point of arrogance. It's like they're saying "we came to work here, but not participate in your decadent, evil culture, so we'll keep apart, and keep our own valules in our little communities and only speak Arabic, and have no desire to integrate with French culture and history". Personally I think that people that don't like the culture are like unwanted guests, be nice but show them the door -- they can go live and work in place that fits "their" lifestyle. Secondly, France is historic in that it was in what is now France, that the Battle of Tours was fought -- the battle that kept the Islamic Conquests (muslims have crusades too, one could even argue they started it) from turning Europe into part of the Islamic Caliphate and preserved the Christian faith and culture in Europe. In the Quran it mentions the many tribes of Jews and Christians in what is now Saudi Arabia -- where are those tribes today? Gone like the desert sands. And how many new churches does Saudi Arabia, the guardians Mecca, allow to be built each year in Mecca? Zero. Because that is their culture -- one of triumph of Islam and that's that the way it's going to stay -- they don't believe in religous tolerance. That's why I don't want to live there. And I would aruge that a majority of French don't want to live there either. So the fact that a conservative Islamic culture is creeping into France is disturbing and hopefully will invigorate a cultural debate about what it means to be French, and understanding the special place France has in Christian history. Because lets face it, Christianity is on the defensive -- yet it was secular Christianity that gave rise to the western cultures that seemingly everyone wants to immigrate to. Food for thought.
I hope France takes the next step and arrests those praying on the streets of Paris. Vive la France !
this is not gud at all western countries are using rebels to attack gaddaffi so that they can find a way to libyan oil,lets look at the bigger picture here if the protesters of are holding missels and destructive weapons,machine guns and AKs what were yu goin to do if you were gaddaffi still u were going to fight them becouse they are holding armunation and telling you to surrend your position as the president,now the best of them all strategies US it calls criminals innocent people an innocent person will protest holding a billchart not a gun if you are protesting holding a gun you are the threat to the govement they should put you away b4 you cause trouble this is what US COULD HAVE DONE TOO,now they r helping rebels to destroy libya lets see after they remove gaddaffi who will rule libya is is rebels who has guts to bring a democratic world to lbya i don thnk so they have to implement some new strategies to run libya"WESTERN COUNTRIES",they will kill those rebels whom they supported during gaddaffi's ruling now that he will be no longer in power,"we see this things"now libya is been left destroyed with no security they will enforce their security in libya and willinly ask to hellp in the infrastrcture and other rebuilds,now what is their reward "OIL",exchange is the best word they will use to control libyan oil pielines,this what they will say,"now that we helping to build libya we need to set an agreement that in our effort we require an exchange in our hell!p we control 75% of your oil in echange with our help!!!
I have to admire the French and their excellence in the arts, intellectual endeavors and the scenic beauty of the country is par superb. Then there is the horrendous hypocrisy, arrogance and colonialists intentions of the citizens and governments both past and present. The terrible assault on human rights that the ruling on the Islamic burqa represents is shameful. France without shame exploits the talents of immigrants to the country. It is nothing for the French to spotlight the talents of immigrants who become newly French citizens. This is for the glory of the French. Yet, in a backhanded way the French are perverse enough to treat immigrants in so many ways, as second class citizens. The bigotry in France is legendary. It bespeaks of a people who are devoid of a healthy respect of people who are not native born French. Yet, a diverse usury mentality is rampant among the French in times of convenience to perpetuate the glory of France. Muslims have more than enough times been undermined in their countries with efforts designed to cause destruction to Islam. The reasons for this undermining is often for economics and/or militarily strategic reasons (i.e., in the current Libyan attacks). The French government in its pretense believes in pretending to be about good will and then looting their victims. The colonialist mentality of the French government (as led by Sarkozy) is in dire straits to salvage its nation's economy, so what better way to do this than returning to being a colonizer? Sadly, the French are welcome to Third World countries more often than not with open arms. However, the French in their hatred for Third World immigrants will often cause nightmares for those unfortunate immigrant souls seeking new and better lives in France. The burqa ban is but one example of the crimes against human rights perpetuated by the hypocritical French. Muslims have a certain sector amongst them that are fed up with being exploited by would be colonizers and because of this perpetuate unsavory reactions against innocent people unfortunately. Things of this nature often are not without cause. The burqa ban will only fan the fires of hatred for the French amongst some Muslim. However, the vast majority of Muslims globally want to live their lives in peace with no desires for violence. France can do itself a favor and the world by stopping its lead role in its inhumanities against the human rights of those who don't fit the French standards for human existence that GOD does not condone and are an affront to His plan to bring us all together on this planet in a spirit of love, decency and respect for one another.
You all speak like youve seen the person behind the veil. Do you really know if its a woman. Could be a man. I would think securety should be the first and only reason for the ban. And some men think a woman all covered up like that is very addractive, So the theroy of covering up so men wont lust after you if your covered up is out the window. Peolpe who have something to hide and are ashamed of something cover up. So what are you ashamed of?
I wish the USA would follow suit. I saw a completely covered lady the other day and it scared the hell out of me. It is not Halloween and yet they dress like the devil and call themselves religious. Muslims are like Republicans, they are hard liners who have a lot hate and misconceptions. Muslim women cover themselves up because their version of Islam says that if they don't they will be attracting me and seem like sluts. Well, fine if you want to be that way in your own country but in Western society all you have to do is not show too much skin and you will not be noticed as there are plenty of hot women who like to flaunt.
I am writing to you as an expatriate (not French) female habitant of the Islamic Republic of Sudan. I have to say I fully understand the French decision to ban the niqab and the burka, and this did not come as a surprise, since the issue has been discussed there for years and years. I am not a Muslim, but I have very close friends, men and women who are deeply Muslim. I have had various interesting discussions with them about Islam and I do not share the unfortunately very common islamofobia expressed in European countries. Furthermore, I live in an intercultural marriage since over 10 years and thus discuss all kind of cultural adaptation matters weekly at home. I am here expressing my own vision about the issue of women covering their face in European countries. First rule, I think, is that in any country of the world there is a cultural and moral history that has lead to common rules of social life. These social rules should be respected by anyone who chooses to live in that country. They ARE of course modelable, but changes will be slow and tend not to be successful if a minority group would try to impose their vision on the majority. Second rule, I do not think the insistence on wearing the veil against the general opinion - and now the law! - will in any way enhance the SO IMPORTANT dialogue between Islam and Christianity (as main religion and basis of cultural habits in Europe on purely historical basis). France is a country where - believe me or not - the values of "liberté, égalité, fraternité" still are kept in high esteem just as the laicity of the state. The scene of a person who is hiding his/her identity wit a mask or garn does not fit to these values and will shock and frighten more than spreading understanding and tolerance. Thirdly, and this is to combine the 1&2: In the country where I live at the moment - Sudan - it is forbidden to be dressed "disrespectfully". A veil on the head is imposed by the LAW on all Muslim women and we others are expected to adapt our clothing so that we do not shock or provoke the country's social code. While the law itself is understandable, it's enforcement has lead to several known serious abuses that I am not at all defending. I hope and believe France will adopt a much more democratic way to enforce this new law. BUT the point is that having a face covered by niqab/burka in France will be just as shocking as wearing a mini-skirt and open revealing clothes would be in Sudan. While every woman should have the right to choose their religion, ALL religions should be LEGALLY practiced. If I understand right, a motivation to wear niqab/burka comes from the desire to imitate as much as possible the prophet’s wives. The important question in this desire of resemblance seems to be: is it what you believe in your heart or the clothes you are wearing? Are they sure that the prophet’s wives would have chosen to wear their niqab/burka if they lived in modern Europe?
A lot goes on behind the Burkha. Some Muslims want the west to react adversely to them so that they can "motivate" their lot against the Western Values and then pick out those that will make a sacrifice on behalf of Islam. The West can keep side stepping for so long. The fact that some politicians have at last chosen to forego the Muslim Block Votes is to be applauded. Until now they used to worktogether. It is the Burkha that covers the Mosques which needs to come off. Only the Muslims can do so. when they will, they will proudly want to show their face and we all would love to stand by them. A lot goes on behind the Burkha.
After the infamous law France has become a strange country where covering oneslf is banned but exposing (or even walking nude, like wild animals) is allowed and appreciated. What they don't realize is women is not a selling commodity who should expose and get best price. This is to save women from bad society. Logically who is likely to get in trouble (in France or elsewhere) a burqa cladded woman or the one exposing her full figure?
It is about time that western countries defend their customs and civilization by banning and outlawing the demeaning practices such as the burka and niqab by countries patently still living in the 15th century. If the liberals would have it, we would stone felons to death!
i think this law was the product of conspiracy to promote tourism ; so that a guest never misses a women's face in his view.. Again another income generating tactic at the cost of women.. i think ladies should protest to maintain self pride and teach the arrogant mens a lesson.. be a rebel or a slave, choice is yours
@go back to your face-covering muslim country.. You leave our country and Stop Begging for our Oil, We do the same. Beggers :D
GO FRANCE! I wish all non-muslim countries would stick up for their Custom & Culture like France has. Muslims are taking over & i fear for my children who will grow up in a possibly Muslim dominated world. They need to obey & respect other countries culture & obey the laws layed out in these countries. If not go BACK! Go to your Muslim country & leave us alone.
Everyone should be allowed to follow their religion. And if your religion allows you to wear mini skirt, Muslims have no problem. Except there is no religion which asks women to wear mini skirts. You know what I mean. Law and Religion are two different things - We Musalman follow religion first and then Law. It does not mean we do not respect Law. And Everyone should follow that country's Law _ No Doubt. But If that law is against your religion we should get a fair chance to protest and Our point of view should be heard. Muslims are not the problem, Muslims are solution to the problem. Stop Demonizing Muslims, this trick does not work any more.
For posters being afraid of "Europe turning Muslim": You are right to proclaim France your ideological leader. France had these fears in the nineties as well. I fact, France was instrumental in the latest European genocide against Muslims (which happened mere 16 years ago). And those weren't even immigrants, but secular European born Muslims. No doubt there will be more such genocides in the near future. So no one is really surprised with this move. Just like no one was really surprised when after similar "debates" on the lack of Jewish integration and prohibitions of variious Jewish symbols, the Holocaust took place. I only wonder if Sarko loyalists in the French police are really going to humilliate themselves by behaving like the morality police in Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Say what you will, but the French know how to defend their culture and values. Well done France!
Sarkozy is falling short in supply of his lust and henceforth he has resorted to playing all sorts of cheap and filthy politics to fullfill the lust of his eyes. I personally suggest him to either go to brothels or some other alternative to fufill his needs instead of snatching off one's religious freedom. He wants every woman to be like his wife carla who has a background history of multiple affairs and exhibiting her assets to hungry men, who lust for her. When the muslim women covering their face do not feel subjugated, I don't understand why Sarkozy feels it. The world is going through real tough times and countries under severe debts and hunger, instead of insulting one's religion,custom,traditions and feelings,its time we focus on real issues.
I as Christian but not religious . Support the fight against Islamic dress code. How ever i do not support law against it. We in west who are realizing that we are facing a Islamic fast growing population and that they want to implement Sharia law should consider that we haw law that we need professional help to interpretate. We make a society were nothing is aloud unless you haw permission. I can fully understand that young people prefer to haw a law that everybody can understand even of not everybody support it. We must make life more easy for our citizens and reduce the Matterhorn of rules regulations that is invented every ear . I strongly believe that this is the only way for western way of living to survive in the long run.
new laws suport liberlism of islamic woman if muslims aginst ban on burka they they should also wear burka same like woman then it is justified
The burka ban is just dancing around the real issue: Islam and its adherents. The burka policy is a substitution for the real desire, which is to empty Europe of Moslems, but that is impossible given the numbers that have been allowed to settle in Europe. This is an intractable problem which will intensify as Moslem immigration continues unchecked.
Bravo to the French government for helping women decide how to dress! A noble step in the ongoing campaign of privileged white males -- followed by some soi-disant feminists -- against the frightening notion that a woman's clothing is her own affair. Another chapter in the chronicle of French courage, as the nation that learned to fight with their feet takes on the dangers posed to the Republique by 2,000 religious ladies. Three cheers -- no, make that one -- as the Republique, evidently for reasons of economy, has pared the slogan "liberte, egalite, fraternite' down to a pleasantly minimal 'fraternite'. I hope we've heard the last of those thankfully obsolete egalitarian cries that the government might be moved by crass political motives more than by the overarching ideals of liberty for those who dress like me, equality for those I like, and fraternity for us wealthy white male cons.
sarkozy is facist scumbag!! no, not in rest of europe he is homofobic scum and france should be ban from eu! death to this war crime vilan who call own youth a scumbags !
The Burqa is provocative iconography that underpins Islamist aggression at home and from abroad by the likes of Turkey's F.M. Ahmet Davutoglu, who insists that the Burqa is a sign of solidarity with Turkey's foreign policy that the loss of Andalussia to the Ottoman Empire and its defeat at the Gates of Vienna, is unendurable. Sarkozy is charged with defending France, vis-à-vis Islam, not to pander to the Mullahs and/or Islamists in order to avoid criticism from Islam and its lickspittle sympathisers
I am not sure what to think of this new law, about the attitude of the law, nor am I sure about the attitude of the writer of this law, doctorate or no in French studies ( he studied the French and has a doctorate? Is France some ant colony?). I can see where the law may radicalize younger French muslims ( saw a case the other day at our orthodontist's office chic modernly dressed maman, son fils totally modern, ma sa fille in a white veil, talk about culture shock). I can also see how it could be used block the progression of sharia law into a modernly secular French culture, although not so sure of it's effectiveness... that remains to be seen. As an American, living in rural France, I don't like to see religious freedoms stepped upon. However I also don't care for a religion that encourages half of their population to live as slaves in bag. I also would like to point out that the French have absolutely every right to govern their country however they see fit, and they don't allow any obtruse ( large, ouvert, or obvious) religious symbols in public for other religion either, so I guess I can understand how they have come to create this law. Therefore my conculsion is let the French decide on their law, they can amend it according to their French societal dictates. Not in reaction to a microscopic French studies Doctor.
Good work Sarkozy! It's up to foreigners to integrate into our society. They must respect the law.
And people say that israel is racist. Wake up europeans, the muslims will soon be more than half of the population in europe and than they'll try to take over you. Do somthing before it's too late.
Felicitations aux Francais. I'm looking at this issue in a whole new way. While I don't condone the government passing laws restricting religious freedoms, I believe that this is much more than meets the eye If I understand correctly the ban is on the FULL facial covering Burka. I can understand the government couching the passage of this new law in the guise of concern over cultural cohesion. I think that any self aware and self respecting woman doesn't choose to give up her basic human freedoms and opportunities (for herself AND her children) of her own volition. Fundamentalists advocate things like Burkas and the like; they aren't religiously based practices, but moreover controlling vehicles. I believe that these culturally based practices of the public 'show of faith' is more done out of psychological conditioning and behavior modification through fear tactics. The fines imposed will punish the 'perpetrators' in the wallet; these kinds of women don't control the finances of their lives the fathers and husbands do. If this is just one way that the French can attempt to improve the lives of these women (and their children) then they have my support. Bravo! May the rest of the E.U. see the example, try to follow suite and do what they can for women's basic human rights and freedoms as well.
This law can be lifted when the muslim countries allow mini skirt be worn in those countries. If a person choose to not let a face-seeing community see her face, then the community can choose to remove this person from their midst or remove the obstruction to seeing the face. You come to France, please follow French custom, otherwise please go back to your face-covering muslim country. If you do not like French custom, why come here ? Simple right ? BAN THE VEIL !!!!! THE SMARTEST THING SARKOZY HAS DONE AND ALL EU COUNTRIES SHOULD FOLLOW !!!!!

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