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Who Will get to Put on a Headband? The Difficult Historical past Behind France’s Newest Hijab Controversy

Who Gets to Wear a Headscarf? The Complicated History Behind France’s Latest Hijab Controversy


The top of French President Emmanuel Macron’s political get together withdrew help late final week for one of many get together’s personal candidates, Sarah Zemmahi, after she wore a scarf in a marketing campaign poster.

Stanislas Guerini, one of many co-founders of Macron’s centrist Republic on the Transfer get together (LREM), took to Twitter to critique Zemmahi, an engineer who’s operating for her native council, for sporting her hijab, a spiritual head protecting worn by some Muslim girls, in a promotional picture.

“Carrying ostentatious spiritual symbols on a marketing campaign doc is just not suitable with the values of LREM,” Guerini wrote, after a distinguished far-right politician shared the photograph. “Both these candidates change their photograph, or LREM will withdraw its help.”

Later, Guerini doubled down on his disapproval, telling RTL radio: “This lady is not going to be an En Marche candidate.”

Whereas Zemmahi has not but responded to Guerini’s statements, he obtained pushback from others within the get together. LREM lawmaker Naima Moutchou defended Zemmahi on Twitter, calling Guerini’s criticism “discrimination,” whereas fellow LREM politician Caroline Janvier known as out Guerini’s response in a scathing tweet.

“Undignified. Working after (far-right) votes will solely permit their concepts to prevail. Sufficient is sufficient,” she wrote.

The battle over one lady’s option to cowl her head comes within the wake of controversy surrounding an modification handed by the French Senate final month that might ban ladies beneath 18 from sporting the hijab in public. As a part of a proposed “anti-separatism” invoice, it was offered alongside amendments that might additionally stop moms from sporting hijabs on their kids’s college journeys and would ban the “burkini,” a full-body swimsuit.

Whereas some French politicians have defended the modification as a reinforcement of the nation’s adherence to secularism, others have slammed it as one more occasion of a part of an unpleasant pressure of Islamophobia within the nation, which is dwelling to the most important Muslim inhabitants in Western Europe—a inhabitants that has skilled elevated discrimination lately, within the wake of terrorist assaults by Islamic extremists lately and the rise of far-right politics. One 2019 report discovered that 44.6% of the nation thought-about Muslims a menace to French nationwide identification, whereas a authorities survey from the identical 12 months listed that 42% of Muslims (different research put the determine at 58%) reported experiencing discrimination because of their faith, a quantity that elevated to 60% for girls who wore a scarf.

However understanding why the hijab is the positioning of a lot controversy in France additionally requires understanding the deep historical past behind the controversy.

Whereas the proposed laws nonetheless must be authorised by the decrease home of French Parliament earlier than it could possibly turn out to be a regulation, it’s already drawn important backlash from many Muslim girls all over the world, who see the regulation as not solely xenophobic and discriminatory, however an assault on their company—a sentiment that has grown through the years as French politicians have argued that legal guidelines limiting spiritual symbolism are in service of girls’s empowerment and public security. On social media, the hashtag #HandsOffMyHijab has turn out to be a rallying cry to protest the modification, began by Somali-Norwegian mannequin Rawdah Mohamed, who used the phrase in a now-viral Instagram publish to name out the potential ban. It’s since garnered help from the likes of U.S. congresswoman Ilhan Omar and Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad.

“How will you have a dialogue about my identification, and never embody me?” Mohamed informed TIME. “I don’t suppose politicians are those who’re alleged to outline what it means to be a Muslim lady.”

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France’s historical past with headscarves

Students hint France’s concentrate on Muslim head coverings and the ladies who put on them again to the nation’s imperial previous in North Africa and the Center East—notably in Algeria.

“Banning the hijab is about colonialism,” Alia Al-Saji, an affiliate professor of philosophy at McGill College, tells TIME. “French colonization of Muslim international locations was typically about controlling and managing populations that had been of various religions… The hijab is a method of clearly displaying that you’re Muslim, which is colonially constructed as being against colonialism. Nevertheless it’s additionally a web site of potential resistance.”

French colonization in Algeria started with an invasion in 1830 and was characterised by violent genocide, settler colonialism and a collection of shifting legal guidelines known as the “indigénat,” which, amongst different issues, decided who might be a French citizen. Al-Saji notes that these legal guidelines had been influential in emphasizing distinction for the Muslim majority in Algeria; for instance, whereas Jewish Algerian natives had been acknowledged as French residents in 1870 with the Cremieux Decree, Muslim Algerian natives weren’t eligible for French citizenship until they renounced their faith and tradition and adopted a French identification.

Inherent within the colonial perspective is the idea that one’s “civilization”—its language, its values and its practices—is an enchancment on the lives of those that are colonized. This perception manifested itself drastically within the perspective towards Algerian Muslim girls, who had been seen as each oppressed and unique. Underneath this mindset, their “liberation” might turn out to be the ethical justification for imperialism’s violent casualties.

This dynamic is maybe greatest illustrated throughout the Algerian Struggle of Independence, when a collection of public unveiling ceremonies had been organized in 1958. Throughout these ceremonies, a lot of which had been organized by the French military, Algerian girls eliminated their haiks (conventional wraps worn by North African girls) or had them eliminated by European girls, earlier than throwing them to the bottom or burning them. Typically, speeches got afterwards in help of the French and the emancipation of Muslim girls.

Whereas these highly-publicized ceremonies had been framed as areas of empowerment for Muslim girls, different accounts of this historical past inform a unique story. In his guide, Burning the Veil: The Algerian Struggle and the ‘Emancipation’ of Muslim Girls, 1954-1962, Neil MacMaster notes that among the girls who took half in these ceremonies had been very poor, recruited from excessive faculties or, in some instances, pressured to take part with threats to their security and that of their households. In a single harrowing case, when the military couldn’t discover a Muslim lady to guide the ceremony, they enlisted Monique Améziane, a younger lady from a rich and pro-French household who had not beforehand worn a veil or heik, to talk—in change for sparing the lifetime of her brother, whom they’d already arrested and tortured.

The symbolic energy of the veil throughout this time, nonetheless, was not solely acknowledged by the French, but additionally by these preventing for Algerian liberation. In his essay Algeria Unveiled, Frantz Fanon makes the case that the veil could be a software of anti-colonial resistance and a method of limiting entry to oppressors, going as far as to name it a “bone of rivalry in a grandiose battle.”

Throughout the battle, the veil additionally grew to become a literal software of resistance. Some feminine freedom fighters for the Nationwide Liberation Entrance used haiks to hide weapons and categorised data; after this tactic was found, they used unveiling to their benefit, adopting European costume as a approach to fly beneath the radar of the French.

How the veil has been reclaimed—and weaponized

Inside France, on the intersection of gender, ethnic and non secular identities, the Muslim veil or head protecting took on new significance within the 20th century. Due to the recognition of orientalist artwork throughout this time, the veil already had stereotypes of the international and forbidden. However veiling was not only a bodily marker of non secular or cultural distinction—it was additionally seen as an affront to assimilation, a visual image of resistance to colonization.

This which means was intensified by the state’s staunch espousal of a unified French cultural and social identification, in opposition to multiculturalism. This perception might be traced all the way in which again to the French Revolution, which has additionally been credited with planting the seeds for laïcité, France’s precept of secularism. Though laïcité originated in a 1905 regulation in regards to the separation of church and state, it has been used lately because the driving pressure behind the anti-hijab insurance policies.

In 2004, Muslim headscarves had been among the many array of non secular symbols banned from being worn in French public faculties. And in 2010, the nation prohibited full-face veils like niqabs in public areas like streets, parks and public transportation, turning into the primary European nation to implement a nation-wide ban and even launching a authorities marketing campaign that proudly said, “the Republic is lived with an uncovered face.”

This sentiment took on a brand new irony at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 when France mandated mask-wearing in public areas, whereas nonetheless banning Muslim face coverings.

“Muslim girls who put on the hijab have at all times been on the receiving finish of Islamophobia for his or her seen identification,” Nazma Khan, the founding father of World Hijab Day, informed TIME. “Merely put, the proposed hijab ban is a scientific vilification and discrimination towards Muslim girls in hijab.”

The Collective towards Islamophobia in France, a non-profit that was compelled by the French authorities to dissolve in 2020 in a transfer that Human Rights Watch known as a “menace to primary human rights and liberties,” reported in 2019 that 70% of Islamophobic hate speech and acts in France had been directed at girls.

To advocates, the extreme concentrate on a bodily marker of otherness, together with the rhetoric touting girls’s empowerment, can distract from what’s actually at stake: what they see as France’s try to manage residents, as territorial residents had been managed previously.

“If it was about giving Muslim girls extra company, then in that case, you can allow them to or let all girls put on no matter they needed,” says Al-Saji. “However It’s really about controlling what girls put on and the way they seem and what will get seen and that their our bodies are seen, this sort of colonial male need, that constructs Muslim girls as trapped and pawns of their tradition and needing to be unveiled.”