Paris, 28 Rabi’ul Akhir 1436/18 February 2015 (MINA) – Amid reports of discrimination against veiled Muslim students, the debate over wearing hijab at public universities has resurfaced in France, following several comments by politicians supporting a more restricting hijab ban in universities.
“This is political pandering to the electorate that might vote for the (far-right) National Front,” John Bowen, a professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, who specializes in the study of Islam, told France 24 on Monday, February 16, On Islam quoted by Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA) as reporting.
Debates surrounding the Islamic veil appeared in France after a series of recent incidents in universities. Earlier this month, a professor at the Paris XIII university said that he did not support “religious symbols in public places”, referring to a young woman wearing a hijab in his class.
Another professor at the Sorbonne asked a student if she would continue wearing “that thing” in class, indicating the young woman’s headscarf. The president of the Sorbonne later apologized for the professor’s comments. The debates developed to include politicians seeking to garner more supporters in looming elections.
In a recent speech at the Sorbonne, French President François Hollande called for a “secular teaching of religion” and said that France’s official secularism, or laïcité, “does not mean forgetting religion, or indeed being in conflict with religion”.
Moreover, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s political party, the UMP (Union for a Popular Movement), gave statements last week to support more restrictive measures on religious symbols in French public spaces, including an outright ban on veils in universities.
This would be in addition to the ban already in place at public primary and secondary schools. The comments came amid increasing support for Marine le Pen’s far-right National Front party, which uses the slogan “The French Come First”.
In Sarkozy’s UMP, Lydia Guirous, who is responsible for secular affairs at the UMP and author of the book “God is great and so is the Republic” (“Allah est Grand et la République aussi”), said in a press release that, “Secularism doesn’t have to stop at the university doors.”
Experts say that the republic’s ideal of maintaining secularism is often misinterpreted and that the idea of a ban on veils at the university level is “insulting”. “This is another in a series of moves drawing symbolic boundaries, saying, ‘You may be perfect citizens, but we’ll never stop reminding you that you’re not totally integrated’,” said Bowen.
Brown added that such measures will force minorities to avoid integration with the wider community. “There is no Muslim community, really. They all have different lives. But they are made into a community when the government creates these laws,” he said.
“The effect of these laws is to say to Muslims who are doing what they are supposed to be doing that, ‘You’re not real citizens’.”
Michel Tubiana, a lawyer and former president of the French Human Rights League, rejected this argument. “It’s an imbecilic proposal,” he said, particularly because it deals with “adult students”.
“Secularism doesn’t apply to university students, rather to the [policies of] professors and the university itself,” he said.
France is home to a Muslim community of nearly six million, the largest in Europe. French Muslims have been complaining of restrictions on performing their religious practices.
In 2004, France banned Muslims from wearing hijab, an obligatory code of dress, in public places. Several European countries followed the French example. France also outlawed the wearing of face-veil in public in 2011. (P/P011/P3)
Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA)