The French Senate voted to ban the hijab for minors in a plea by the conservative right: NPR

The French Senate passed an amendment that would make it illegal for girls to wear the religious veil worn by Muslim women. The measure will likely fail when it is debated in the National Assembly.


The French Senate has passed a measure that would ban anyone under the age of 18 from wearing the hijab in public. This is an amendment to a law that the government introduced to combat religious extremism. Another amendment would ban the full body swimsuit known as the burqini in swimming pools and public beaches. While unlikely to become law, they continue a debate among French lawmakers over Muslim clothing. And we’re joined by Eleanor Beardsley from NPR in Paris to discuss it. Hello, Eleanor.


SHAPIRO: What are these measures that the Senate voted on?

BEARDSLEY: Well, as you said, the most controversial would prohibit anyone – a minor – under the age of 18 from wearing the Muslim veil in public. And indeed, today, some senators proposed another amendment in the same spirit that the headscarf would not be authorized in national sports competitions, in particular on television. You know, these are amendments to a more important French bill. And I spoke with experts. They have no chance of becoming law. I mean, they should be passed by the lower house of parliament, which has already said it is against them. And even if they were passed, the country’s constitutional council would likely overturn them so that they had no chance of becoming law.

SHAPIRO: But they tap into a larger debate in France. Explain why Conservative lawmakers are introducing these measures if they have no chance of becoming policies.

BEARDSLEY: Right. Well, this is the presidential election next year. And these amendments were all proposed by the big French conservative party, which in reality is only limping along in the shadow of itself. He has been cannibalized from the left and the right. It is especially voters lost to the profit of the extreme right party of Marine Le Pen. And I spoke to political scientist Jean-Yves Camus. And here is what he said about it.

JEAN-YVES CAMUS: The conservative right sees that some of its former voters have gone to the far right, so they are trying to win back those voters. If they want to get those voices back, they must come up with at least as xenophobic legislation.

SHAPIRO: What do Muslims in France think about being caught in the middle of this political standoff?

BEARDSLEY: Well, Muslims feel stigmatized. You know, the law – the main law – it was proposed last fall after a French college professor was beheaded by a radical Islamist for showing pictures of the Prophet Muhammad in his classroom. You know, Muslims were very horrified by this. And the government, they feel like the government, instead of bringing everyone together, has sort of isolated them. This law is called the law to strengthen French values ​​and principles. At first, they called it the Law Against Islamist Separatism because the government said radical Islam comes from separatist Islam. And it was about, you know, underground schools where little girls wear the veil and the sexes are separated instead of gender equality.

So Macron spoke of developing parallel societies that would destroy the republic, and this law was to fight that. Muslims say they adhere to French values. They are French. And France is a secular country. It is to allow everyone to practice their religion equally. They say it is distorted, if not militarized, to somehow ban religion, especially Islam, which is more visible than other religions because of things like the headscarf. I spoke to Rim Sarah Alouan. She is a researcher on religious freedom and civil liberties. And here is what she told me.

RIM SARAH ALOUAN: It’s really a battle for the next elections. And what we are witnessing is what I have called the militarization of secularism. And with the upcoming elections, of course, that’s going to flatter the far right the most.

BEARDSLEY: So, you know, this law has a lot of criticism. Even Catholic and Jewish leaders have spoken out to warn against this. Many say that it is not about extremism, but that it is against religion. Nevertheless, he should pass.

SHAPIRO: Eleanor Beardsley, thank you very much.

BEARDSLEY: Thanks, Ari.

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