The Muslim headscarf, a recurring issue in France, took center stage in the country’s presidential campaign on Friday amid pressure from far-right candidate Marine Le Pen to ban them in the country with the largest population. Western European Muslim.
She and her rival Emmanuel Macron, the frontrunner in the polls as he seeks a second term as president, face a hotly contested April 24 runoff. They were both faced with women in headscarves who questioned why their clothing choices should be caught up in politics.
Macron would not ban religious clothing, but he has overseen the closure of many mosques, schools and Islamic groups, with the help of a task force to root out suspected hotbeds of radicalism. The Macron government also passed a controversial law last year to combat “separatism”, the word used to describe the mixing of politics with Islam, deemed dangerous to the nation’s primary value of secularism.
Today, some Muslims feel that the presidential campaign is once again stigmatizing their faith.
At a farmers’ market in the southern town of Pertuis, a woman wearing a blue and white headgear approached Le Pen as the candidate walked past fishmongers and vendors to greet supporters.
“What does the headscarf do in politics? asked the woman.
Le Pen defended his position, calling the headscarf “a uniform imposed over time by people who have a radical vision of Islam”.
“That’s not true,” the woman replied. “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 platform calls for a ban on the Islamic headscarf on French streets, a giant leap forward from two laws already in place, a 2004 ban on the headscarf in classrooms and a 2010 ban on the niqab covering the face in the streets. Headscarves are common clothing for many Muslim women.
Its opposition to the headscarf sums up what its detractors 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 restrict the access of French Muslims and Jews 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 by saying he would not change any laws.
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.
French women “have been castigated in recent years for a simple headscarf, without any leader deigning to denounce this injustice”, she said. And she repeated the argument made by many veiled women in France: that people mistakenly think that they are veiled because men make them wear the headscarf, and not by personal choice.
“For me personally, the headscarf issue is not an obsession,” Macron said, seeking to defend his record.
Le Pen argues that Muslim headscarves serve as a “marker” of Islamist ideology and calls them an “Islamist uniform”.
According to a theory that many – but not all – experts subscribe to, Islamism, or the blending of religion and politics, is a gateway to radical Islam.
Marwan Muhammad, an outspoken former director of a group that campaigned against Islamophobia – and has since been banned by the government – said Macron and Le Pen had turned Islam in France into electoral football, both seeking support from their respective audiences.
Le Pen’s more radical positions are “a blessing for Macron”, he said.
“What he wants is to present himself as the alternative, when in fact his policies for the past five years have been destructive for Muslims,” Muhammad added.
“I want a president who accepts me as a person,” said Naila Ouazarf, a 19-year-old French student wearing a beige dress and matching headgear, before heading to a mosque in the city. east of Paris. She said her clothes reflected her religious beliefs, adding that neither her mother, sister nor most of her friends covered their heads – which she fully accepts.
But she would defy the promised law if Le Pen becomes president.
If Le Pen wins, ‘I’ll take the fine every time I go out’ rather than take off her headgear, the young woman said, speaking days before Le Pen and Macron faced Muslim women . Le Pen’s proposed law would require unspecified fines for women who violate the headscarf ban.
A young man accompanying Ouazarf, whom he coyly described as his fiancée, said he had a better idea than to pay fines.
“If necessary, we will leave (France) so as not to be disturbed, so that people do not look at us unfavorably,” said Mohamed Tagite, also 19.