Hijab in the spotlight as far-right candidate calls for it to be banned

The hijab, the headscarf that some Muslim women wear, was at the center of the French presidential election campaign on Friday as women who wore it faced off against both President Emmanuel Macron and his far-right rival Marine Le Pen. The women asked why their clothing should be a policy.

Le Pen has pushed to ban the hijab in France, which has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe.

Many Muslims in France feel that the presidential campaign has unfairly stigmatized their faith.

As Le Pen greeted supporters at a farmers’ market in the southern town of Pertuis, a woman wearing a blue and white hijab approached her and asked, “What does the headscarf do in politics?”

Le Pen defended his position and called the hijab “a uniform imposed over time by people who have a radical vision of Islam”.

The woman replied, “That’s not true. I started wearing the veil when I was an older woman. For me, it’s a sign of being a grandmother.”

The woman noted that her father had served in the French army for 15 years.

Le Pen’s opposition to the headscarf has summed up what its critics say makes it dangerous for French unity, by stigmatizing millions of French Muslims. Le Pen would also reduce immigration and wants to ban ritual slaughter, which would restrict French Muslims and Jews’ access to kosher and halal meat.

Macron also debated a woman wearing a Muslim headscarf on Friday during a heated exchange on the France-Info channel. He sought to distance himself from Le Pen saying he would not change any laws, but defended the existing headscarf ban in schools as part of secular French principles.

The woman, Sara El Attar, said she felt insulted by Macron’s previous comments where he suggested the headscarf destabilizes relations between men and women.

She said that French women “have been castigated in recent years for a simple headscarf, without any leader deigning to denounce this injustice”. She repeated the argument made by many veiled women in France: that people mistakenly think that they are not veiled by personal choice, but because men make them wear headscarves.

Macron sought to defend his record, saying “For me personally, the headscarf issue is not an obsession.”

But critics say Macron’s government has stoked prejudice against Muslims by cracking down on what it claims are efforts by some Muslims to create spaces in France for stricter interpretations of Islam. The government attacked certain schools, mosques and Islamic associations.

With AP inputs

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