Attempt to ban face veil in universities draws criticism in France


An ongoing debate over a controversial ‘separatism bill’ has sparked criticism in France, dividing parliamentarians over the face veil issue and whether to include amendments to ban university students from wearing a veil on school premises.

Several parliamentarians on Tuesday deemed this decision counterproductive and alienating towards the Muslim community.

Sacha Houlie, a member of President Emmanuel Macron’s liberal centrist La République En Marche party, warned that banning students and parents from public services and school outings, and preventing their participation in cultural and sporting activities would be “totally counterproductive in relation to the very objective of this text which fought against the separatists” and “would send these people back to their identity” so that they “promote community withdrawal”.

Boris Vallaud, member of the Socialist Party, also reacted: “Students are users of the public service; this secularism does not apply to them.”

“To ban the veil in a university would be to say that all women who wear the veil pose a problem, which would mean that we consider that it is Islam that poses a problem”, declared Pierre Yves Bournazel, member of the Act Together party representing Paris. .

A 2004 law prohibits the wearing or open display of religious symbols in all French schools, but it does not apply to universities. There is no law prohibiting mothers from wearing the hijab on school trips, but there have been several instances where veiled women have been verbally abused or told not to accompany their wards.

The discussion was sparked by Tuesday’s demand from conservative Republican party member Eric Ciotti to ban the veil in universities.

“We cannot tolerate that the university, temple of knowledge, reason and science, can tolerate a garment of enslavement of women within it,” he said at the hearing of the special commission. examining the text of the bill “confirming respect for the principles of the Republic” in the National Assembly.

The government says the bill presented to the Council of Ministers on December 9 aims to fight against “separatism” and radicalization through a series of provisions such as the ban on polygamy, forced marriages, virginity certificates and home schooling; controlling foreign funding; make places of worship more transparent; ban political meetings in a religious building and combat hate speech and illegal content online.

Around 1,700 amendments were tabled for discussion ahead of the bill’s review which began on Monday, the majority of which were ruled “out of order”. This included an amendment by Aurore Berge and Jean-Baptiste Moreau, members of Macron’s party, aimed at banning the wearing of the veil for “little girls” and mothers accompanying school trips, which was ultimately rejected.

In a comment to the French daily Le Express, Berge defended his proposed amendment.

“Supporting improved access to abortion and fighting against the veiling of young girls are part of the same fight for the emancipation of women. You cannot be a feminist with variable geometry, or only the to be when the battle is on,” she said. .

Previously, Macron had warned on such amendments that there was a “probable danger of diverting the debate to this issue which has no place today” and that it had “no relation to the draft law”.

“And this can lead to a stigmatization of Muslims, while we have said several times that it is not a text against the Muslim religion,” said the daily Le Parisien during a seminar last week.

Macron has become a target of anger in some Muslim countries, and the boycott of French products began after he defended provocative Charlie Hebdo cartoons attacking the Prophet Muhammad and saying Islam is a religion “in crisis”.

The French president also declared a crackdown on Islam, followed by the launch of deeply divisive policies that target the Muslim community through crackdowns on mosques and Muslim organizations.

France has the largest Muslim minority in Europe, with around 5 million or more Muslims out of a population of 67 million. Since Macron’s inauguration in 2017, France has become a less liberal country for Muslims. Many French Muslims say worries about Islam have turned into stigma, pointing to issues such as recent rows over young women wearing headscarves appearing before a parliamentary committee or giving cooking advice on TV. Macron has called Islam an “ideology of death” following attacks by terrorist groups, although groups like Daesh, which has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks in France, are adamantly rejected by the Muslim community.

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