As the final vote in France draws near, the debate on Islam and the head scarf

PARIS – A Muslim woman in a blue-and-white hijab confronted far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, making her way through a crowd in the southern city of Pertuis last week. “What is the head scarf doing in politics?” The woman demanded.

Ms Le Pen, a nationalist with an anti-immigrant agenda, has vowed to ban wearing a head scarf in public if she is elected in a second round of voting next Sunday. She says it is “an Islamist uniform”, or a sign of adherence to an extremist, anti-Western interpretation of the Muslim faith.

The woman who argued with Ms. Le Pen had none of this. “When I was an old lady,” she said, “as a sign of being a grandmother, her choice of wearing a head scarf was made.” Ms Le Pen stressed that in many French neighborhoods women who do not wear a veil are “separated, isolated and judged.”

In a country with the largest Muslim population in Western Europe, what a woman wears on her head matters. France has a troubled relationship with Islam due to its colonial history in Algeria and the numerous jihadist terrorist attacks in recent years. As Ms Le Pen and President Emmanuel Macron face each other in a tight race, religious freedom, especially for Muslims, who make up about 8 percent of the population, has emerged as a critical issue.

Mr Macron, who has called Ms Penn’s plan “an extremist project”, has nonetheless angered some members of the Muslim community, mainly through legislation he calls “Islamic separatism”. That law, passed last year, has been used to shut down some mosques and Islamic associations accused of promoting fundamentalism. It was designed to attract right-wing voters to his centrist camp.

Mr Macron, whose election lead has risen slightly to 53.5 per cent in the past week, while Ms Le Pen’s 46.5 per cent, had his own confrontation with a young French woman wearing a hijab during a campaign in Strasbourg last week.

“Are you a feminist?” He asked. “Are you up for equality of women and men?”

When the woman answered yes to both questions, and said that her head scarf was chosen, not imposed, Mr Macron pointed bluntly to Ms Le Pen, “It is all those follies.” The best answer I keep hearing.”

This was yet another example of Mr Macron, who had rarely campaigned before the first round of voting on 10 April, conveying his message to appeal to a block of voters who felt betrayed by him over the past five years. Adjusted – Muslim community and leftists.

In the first round, nearly 70 percent of French Muslims voted for Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-left candidate who was narrowly eliminated, according to one. Study By IOP Voting Institute. Where those votes go now matters.

France is a secular republic and is in principle a non-discriminatory society where people are free to believe or not believe in any god. But it finds itself in a fragmented debate over Islam. The extreme-right see the growing Muslim presence as a mortal threat to French identity, and this approach has gained a foothold in the political mainstream.

Intensely linked to its model of a secular society, known as the lecit, which is supposed to include the rights and responsibilities of French citizenship to all men and women, France has failed to acknowledge those failures. which has left many Muslim migrants and their descendants in disrepair. Housing projects on the periphery of large cities, seem to have no viable French identity or future.

It has been illegal to wear a face-covering niqab or a full-body burqa in public since 2011. But there is no restriction on the dupatta on the head.

French laws prohibit the wearing of ostentatious religious symbols – a head scarf is considered a must in schools. Civil servants are also barred from doing this at work. debate has broken out Parents going on school trips should be allowed to wear head scarves, but efforts to stop them have failed.

Strongly held French sentiments about the equality of men and women, about secularism, and its supposedly colorless society are behind the fierceness of discussion of these issues. So what happens unintentionally or prejudiced.

Mr Macron accused Ms Le Pen of undermining Lasit’s principles and the constitution itself by banning the proposed head scarf. In an interview with Franceinfo radio last week, she said she would also have to ban the use of “kippas, crosses and other religious symbols” in public or she would be discriminating between believers.

Not so, Ms Le Pen retorted in an interview with France Inter Radio. “The head scarf is actually an Islamic uniform, it is not a Muslim uniform, and that makes all the difference. It is the uniform of an ideology, not of any religion.”

He continued: “This ban is not based on the concept of Lysit. It is based on the fight against Islamic ideologies.”

However, Ms Le Pen defended a bit on Sunday, saying the issue was a “complicated problem” and that her proposed ban would be debated in the National Assembly.

Whether this ban would also apply to women who choose head scarves as a fashion statement la Audrey Hepburn is unclear.

Ms Le Pen has said that enforcing the ban and fining women wearing head scarves would be no more difficult than enforcing the use of seatbelts.

If such comments drive Muslim voters away from Ms Le Pen, it is unclear whether they will prompt her to endorse Mr Macron in the second round. Several first-round voters for Mr Mélancheon have said they will abstain from voting on April 24.

In a radio debate with Mr. Macron last week, Sarah El Attar, founder of Hashtag Ambition and a communications coach, said Mr. Macron’s comments suggested damage to the relationship between men and women, which made him a Muslim woman. As was angered, who chooses to wear a head scarf.

French women “have been punished for a simple scarf in recent years, without a leader to condemn this injustice,” she said.

Intensifying the debate on religious freedom, Ms Le Pen has promised to ban the slaughter of animals essential to the production of halal and kosher meat, which Mr Macron dismissed as the beginning of a France where “Muslims and Jews will be unable to eat as their religion instructs.”

In a joint statement last week, Rabbi Ham Corcia, the premier of France and Eli Corchia, president of the Israeli Central Conservatory, said such a measure, for Jews and Muslims alike, “would be a serious attack on the free exercise of religion that stipulates of our constitution.” foundation.” He urged voters to support Mr Macron.

Mohamed Moussoui, president of the Federation of French Mosques, said the ritual slaughter was “an aspect of religious freedom” guaranteed by the constitution. Condemning Ms. Le Pen, she did not explain how Muslims should vote.

The woman who encountered Ms. Le Pen in Pertuis noted that her father had served in the French army for 15 years. One of the most devastating battles of World War I, the vast cemetery in Verdun holds an entire square for French Muslims who died fighting for France.

As debate rages over Islam’s place in France, this military service is rarely remembered, to the point that the position of ric Zemour—the now defunct radical-right candidate who believed that Islam and France were just were “inconsistent” – attracted approximately 2.5 million votes in the first round.

He has urged his followers to vote for Ms. Le Pen in the second round.

Aurelian Breeden Contributed to reporting.

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