France gripped by debate over Muslim headscarves

France gripped by debate over Muslim headscarves

France is debating whether women in headscarves should be allowed to accompany children on school trips.  

President Emmanuel Macron said French institutions “cannot get rid of the Islamist hydra on their own. No, it is the entire nation that must unite, mobilise, act.” He said he wanted a “society of vigilance” that “knows how to recognise … the deviations, these little gestures that show a distancing from the laws and values of the republic”.

But Macron also said Muslims should not be “stigmatised” and warning of a “fatal shortcut” linking Islam with terrorism.

France has about 5 million Muslims, the largest Islamic minority in western Europe.

The youthful president urged the French to unite. 

“For 15 days everything has been confused and there’s been a lot of irresponsibility among political commentators,” Macron said, adding that “communalism” was not terrorism.

At a regional council meeting in Dijon at the regional parliament for Bourgogne-Franche-Comté on October 11, a class of 10-year-olds in the visitors’ gallery were accompanied by a mother wearing a headscarf or hijab as part of the children’s introduction to public life. 

Julien Odoul, an elected representative of the far-right Rassemblement National (RN), said she should take it off. 

Headscarves are banned in schools and public buildings and teachers cannot wear religious symbols in the classroom.

But there is no law preventing mothers wearing headscarves when accompanying children on school excursions.

“We are in a public building, in a democratic place,” Odoul said. “Madame is free to wear her veil at home, in the street, but not here, not today… It is an unbearable provocation… We cannot begin the session with a minute’s silence for the victims of the police headquarters and accept that.”

The woman’s son hid his tearful face in his mother’s robe. Pictures of the scene went viral on social media. 

A lawyer for the mother, who has been identified as Fatima E, said she would file a lawsuit for racist violence and hate speech against Odoul.

Macron’s party has split over the issue. Government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye said Odoul’s remarks were “shocking”. “I have no problem with a veiled woman participating in school outings. Integration means not shutting women in,” she told the media. 

But education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer also said, while it was not illegal for women to wear headscarves on school trips, “we do not want to encourage the phenomenon. The veil, as such, is not desirable in our society.”




Picture credit: YouTube 

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