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Al Qaeda No. 2 slams France's ban on Islamic veils

media A woman wearing the Islamic niqab Reuters

In an audio tape posted online Tuesday, Al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri slammed France's move to ban Islamic face veils, saying Muslim women must hold on to their veils at any cost.

“What France is doing, which is spreading across Europe and the West, should prompt us to hold on to our true religion in face of their deviant ideologies,” he said in the tape posted on an Islamist website.

The ban on the Muslim hijab (veil) and niqab (face cover) was passed overwhelmingly by France’s lower house of parliament in July. The bill, which has received overwhelming support in opinion polls, must now be ratified by the senate in September to become law.

The bill makes it illegal to cover the face anywhere in public. Those caught wearing a full veil would face hefty fines or be ordered to enroll in a "citizenship course".

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said earlier this year that the full veil "hurts the dignity of women and is not acceptable in French society".

French Muslims worry that the law will stigmatise Muslims in general.

"Europe is revealing its real face, telling Muslims that all the (European) citizenships they obtained... do not grant them the freedom and peace that they were imagining," Zawahiri said.

France is home to Europe's largest Muslim community. Other European countries, including Belgium and Spain, are working on bills similar to France's law to ban full Islamic veils in public places.

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