France’s war on the hijab overshadows Muslim women


This week’s news that the French Senate passed a law prohibiting mothers from accompanying their children on school trips while wearing a headscarf, has reminded many that mercy – even during the holiest months of months Islamic dedication to this – is not something often granted to Muslims these days.

We are only halfway through the fasting month and Ramadan has already been soured by the daily headlines of growing state and street Islamophobia. The right, it seems, sees every day as a new opportunity to target some of the most oppressed layers of European society: Muslim women.

The Republican Party in France has demonstrated this by proposing an extension of the existing restrictions on religious clothing. The party explicitly indicated that this law “prohibits the wearing of the veil during school trips”. Leaving no room for maneuver to those who may have used the now worn-out excuse that it will impact all faith and non-faith groups as the text refers to “visible religious symbols”.

the vote adopted by the upper house of the National Assembly with 186 votes in favor, 100 against and 156 abstentions.

This shift in the growing marginalization of Muslim women in the hands of the French state may not come as a surprise to many – especially the targeted community itself. The right and the left of the country, from political parties to writers, journalists, public figures and even artists, have been waging war on the hijab and the burqa for 15 years.

The first ban on the veil was introduced in 2004 by the then president, Jacques Chirac and applied to all schools and colleges in France. The law that would have been triggered by September 11 was passed by the National Assembly with an overwhelming majority of 494-36.

It is clear that the French political establishment is determined to continue its long racist history of targeting Muslims.

Although adopted by a right-wing government, the controversy was actually sparked by two teachers, both members of radical socialist organizations, who campaigned to expel two students wearing the hijab from their school.

The years that followed were dominated by a speech by former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, that “France is a country to which the burqa does not belong”, it is therefore not surprising that a ban on the face veil (that is to say the burqa) in all public spaces, has been introduced in 2011.

Any violation of this law would result in a fine of $ 168 and potentially the need to complete some form of citizenship re-education program. Because in the eyes of the French government, wanting to wear the burqa is in direct contradiction with the aggressively secular collective national identity (read racist) which must be defended and internalized, in order to access all fundamental rights in France.

Then in 2016, it was the burkini that the state sought. Prime Minister Manuel Valls ssaid that they were an “affirmation of political Islam in the public sphere”.

In other words, Muslim women live openly among us and must be pushed back into the shadows. So, for example, when the 2011 ban was enforced and Muslim women demonstrated in front of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, more than 60 of the protesters were arrested. In 2015 alone, more than 1,600 police checks related to the ban had been carried out and 1,546 fines imposed.

Indeed, what is strikingly recurrent in all of these laws is the organized will, from all corners of the political spectrum, to oust Muslim women from the public sphere.

Schools, universities, public services and even beaches or swimming pools have become battlegrounds for access and control of public space. In the name of the “liberation” of women from their so-called patriarchal religious oppression, the state pushes Muslim women at home and out of active political and social life.

In reality, the anti-Muslim hatreds enshrined in the political practices of the republic have existed since its colonization of predominantly Muslim lands – and of Algeria in particular.

The choice of Muslim women to express their religion externally has been used both to reinforce the otherness of the former colonies and as a pretext to deprive them of all freedom.

Muslim women were imagined as needing to be saved by the Republic, which then served as a useful justification for colonization and its “civilizing mission”. The public veil fires have become one of the powerful symbols of this process of violent oppression disguised as liberation.

Read more: Dare to be a visibly Muslim woman in France

It is clear that the French political establishment is determined to continue its long racist history of targeting Muslims, especially those who visibly are, as it reminds them that the reality of the country is rapidly changing and racially diverse. The empire is coming home to roost.

While France may have pioneered the institutionalization of gendered Islamophobia by being the first country to implement a face veil ban, it is not the only country to apply such policies.

Austria has already implemented the anti-face covering law – a.k.a. the burqa ban – since 2017, when the coalition of Social Democrats and the conservative Austrian People’s Party sought to outdo the Freedom Party in Austria. extreme right after their almost victorious presidential campaign.

Our cheap labor is still welcome, but it should be kept hidden from view

The burqa, which was worn by around 150 women in a country of about 8.7 million people, is said to have been an obstacle to an “open society”. The government presented a law banning the hijab in schools absolutely, just last week. Similar veil and burqa laws exist in Denmark, parts of Italy as well as Spain, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.

The current struggle is therefore that of the culmination of 70 years of post-colonial migration and women’s rights. Just as colonialism waged its war on women’s bodies in the Global South – a recurring theme in contemporary Western interventions in the Middle East – so has the state’s assault on people of color. in their country.

It is through the police of the place of women in the public space that the wider exclusion of black and brown populations is organized. Our cheap labor is still welcome, but it must be kept hidden. A battle which, judging by our central role in social movements, sport, popular culture or intellectual production, is already truly lost.

Malia Bouattia is an activist, former president of the National Union of Students and co-founder of the Students not Suspects / Educators not Informants Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board, or its team.


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