Home Fashion glasses Opinion: France is on a dangerous collision course with its Muslim population

Opinion: France is on a dangerous collision course with its Muslim population

The French Senate voted 160 to 143 in favor of banning the wearing of the hijab and other “ostentatious religious symbols” in sports competitions. The amendment was proposed by right-wing Republicans, who argued that the hijab could endanger the safety of athletes who wear it while playing sports.

You really couldn’t make that up.

In France, Muslim women using their free will and exercising their basic rights to wear what they choose to wear are considered a security risk. France’s attempt to liberate and seemingly save Muslim women from ourselves and our headscarves is a racist and colonial project disguised as a defense of the country’s secular values. The project piles up Islamophobic wrongs on Muslim women.

Indeed, it is misogynistic and hateful to force women to remove the hijab – as much as it is misogynistic and hateful to force women to wear the hijab.

Emmanuel Macron’s government opposes the proposed ban and French lawmakers have expressed ‘regret’ at the government’s ‘unwillingness’ to halt what they describe as the ‘development of Islamism in sports,” CNN reported. This comes against the backdrop of an upcoming presidential election in April, where France’s domestic politics continue to tilt further to the right, and many Muslim residents and communities of color are subjected to toxic and divisive political rhetoric about the Islam, immigration and race.

In just two years, France will also host the Olympics, meant to bring nations together in a united spectacle of inclusivity on the world stage. A divisive and discriminatory hijab ban only highlights how uncomfortable France is with building a modern multiculturalist state.

The bill will now be reviewed by the National Assembly, which should have the final say. All of this means that, for now, Muslim women who exercise in the hijab are being given extra time to do so as the bill cannot pass in its current state.

France is home to around 5.7 million Muslims and the largest Muslim population in Europe, according to the Pew Research Center. In 2019, 31% of French Muslim women wore the hijab, according to Statista, so this sports ban will have a profound impact on many women. Once again, French lawmakers have chosen to continue on a dangerous collision course with the country’s Muslim population and in particular French Muslim women.

Attempts to ban Muslim women from wearing the hijab when exercising are seen by many Muslim women and activists I have spoken to as a page straight out of the playbook of the Afghan Taliban and the Iranian regime in denying women their own agency. This ban is seen as much more than denying women the right to play sports, if that weren’t outrageous enough.

The sports hijab ban is intended to further dehumanize, belittle and erase French Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab. This makes Muslim women targets of state-sanctioned gender-based Islamophobia and right-wing hatred.

I am one of three British Muslim activists and football enthusiasts who call themselves ‘The Three Hijabis’. Last summer, alongside Amna Abdullatif and Huda Jawad, I started a viral petition calling on the English Football Association, the UK government and tech companies to work to ban racists from football for life, following the abuse inflicted on three young black English players after the Euro Final at Wembley against Italy.
The campaign garnered 1.2 million signatures. Within 48 hours of the launch of our petition, Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared in Parliament to commit his government to work to achieve our demands.

Our campaign made headlines in the UK and attracted media attention around the world. However, if we were three French Muslim women, we probably wouldn’t have been allowed to enter the country’s public or political space in the same way – simply because we wear the hijab.

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It’s a stark contrast that I experienced firsthand. In 2015, I presented a BBC documentary on what it means to be young, French and Muslim in France following the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks in Paris. As part of the documentary, I went to the French parliament to interview Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, the youngest French politician ever elected and the niece of far-right leader Marion Le Pen.

I was told that I could not enter the parliament building because of my hijab. I explained that I was a journalist, there to interview a politician. Yes, I’m a Muslim woman wearing the hijab, but I’m also British – “I’m as British as fish and chips” I told the receptionist hoping she would understand that my hijab didn’t have nothing to do with what I do. my job. The receptionist looked horrified and confused, then told me I could proceed with my interview.

In Europe, there is a proven winning formula for politicians hoping to attract voters from the right-wing fringe ahead of national elections. And that means turning Muslim women and our clothing choices into political football. Many populist European politicians in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland, and of course France, have used this tactic to attract voters. They rummage through the wardrobes of Muslim women and pull out the hijab, niqab and burqa as exhibits meant to threaten the very fabric of Western values ​​and way of life.

In France, we have of course already been here. Several times. In 2004, France banned the wearing of the hijab in schools alongside Christian crosses and yarmulkes, worn by observant Jews. The ban was imposed, according to the state, on the grounds that state institutions are meant to be “religiously neutral.”

Then in 2010, France became the first country in Europe to ban the wearing of the full veil, known as the niqab, in public spaces, including public transport and parks, streets and administrative buildings. . Women caught wearing the niqab in public spaces risk a fine of 150 euros and are arrested by the police.
French lawmakers have proposed a ban on the hijab in competitive sports.  The impact on women could be devastating.

In 2016, authorities in 15 cities and towns in France banned the “burkini” – a modest all-in-one swimsuit that covers the entire body except the face. Again, the ban was imposed to supposedly defend France’s secular values.

And in May 2020, when France, like many countries in Europe and around the world, made face masks compulsory in certain contexts like public transport to try to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the ban on the full veil in France remained in place. This means that while female French citizens were required to cover their faces by law, female French Muslim citizens covering their faces with the niqab continued to face the prospect of being fined and arrested by the police. police.
In 2018, the UN Human Rights Committee said France’s ban was a violation of religion and could impact Muslim women by “confining them to their homes, preventing them from access to public services and marginalizing them”.
When it comes to the hijab and the way Muslim women choose to dress, there is widespread cognitive dissonance in the French republic, illustrated once again beautifully by a recent Instagram post from Vogue France welcoming the arrival of actress Julia Fox at Paris Men’s Fashion Week as she wore a Balenciaga trench coat, with a black scarf, sunglasses and the caption: “Yes to the scarf!”

The post drew widespread criticism from Muslim women and others pointing to the double standard of a rich and famous white American actress being praised for wearing a headscarf as a fashion choice – while a French Muslim woman choosing to wear a headscarf in one’s own country faces restrictions on one’s lifestyle choices and movements and can be fined and criminalized by the state. Vogue France then deleted the Instagram post.

It is this hypocrisy that France must face. Denying Muslim women our rights in the name of maintaining so-called neutrality is a fig leaf for further mainstreaming anti-Muslim bigotry and misogyny against Muslim women. French Muslim women just don’t stand for it anymore, and many more Muslim women outside of France either. We collectively call time on this racism and Islamophobia.

Football and sport belong to all of us, however we choose to dress. Let us play.