Illustration by: Lucy Qi

Once again, the French government has stupefied the world by imposing their unwarranted and hypocritical “secularist” values. And to no one’s surprise it targets—drumroll please—French Muslims. The western world’s centre of Islamophobia has pulled the rug out from under the feet of Muslims—or to be more correct, pulled the scarves off the heads of Muslim women. The French Senate recently approved a law that prohibits girls who are under the age of eighteen from wearing the hijab in public spaces. The legislation also banned mothers from wearing the hijab when accompanying their children to swimming pools or on school trips [1].

Perhaps the most appalling aspect of France’s continued Islamophobic regime is the double standards it employs in the treatment of its Muslim citizens. French President Emmanuel Macron had previously voiced his belief that the hijab was not in accordance with French ideals, and a ban on face coverings would empower women [1]. But is policing the way women dress really representative of feminism? The correct answer is no. In reality, this law seeks to take away the authority of Muslims on how they choose to dress and, rather than empowering, serves to oppress them. Every woman must have the right to decide what they wear, and only then can they be truly liberated. It is not for a government body to decide what empowers a person, it is for the people to decide. So why don’t Macron and his government truly say what they mean, that feminism to them is for everyone other than Muslim women? 

While some may argue that girls shouldn’t have the authority to choose how they dress until they come of age, which is a ridiculous argument in itself, the double standards in French society manifest in other laws as well. The age at which someone can legally consent to sexual activity in France is fifteen years of age [2]. Why then, is the same age too young to choose to visibly practice a part of their religious identity? The sentiment that many politicians and non-Muslim feminists seem to have is described:

“While proponents of the law insisted that there was only one meaning, even these tended to vary, though there came to be a consensus around the idea that head scarves/veils were synonymous with the subordination of women and that they were the emblem of an international Islamic movement reaching to Europe from Pakistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. ‘There was only one meaning for the veil,’ sociologist Juliette Minces told the National Assembly’s committee of inquiry, it stood for Islam’s belief in the subordination of women to men’s view of them as sexually dangerous and in need of protection.’”[3]

In reality, however, forcing young girls to dress a certain way enforces that the only way women are “empowered” is by revealing their bodies For many Muslim girls, the hijab is almost like a shield that forces people to look at who they are rather than what they look like, and is an integral part of their identity. Furthermore, head coverings aren’t banned for people of other faiths, so secularism is really just a front to attack Islam. In November of 2019, French officials defended a nun who wished to live in a retirement home but was told she couldn’t do so because she displayed religious attire [4]. On the other hand, French police forced several women wearing burkinis, a type of modest swimsuit for women, to remove their clothing in the summer of 2016 [5].

France has always followed this double standard with restricting religious freedoms for religions like Islam and Sikhism, while still allowing Christians to exercise their rights to the fullest. Things like forcing Muslim buisnesses to sell alcohol and pork, banning the sale of halal slaughtered meat, and banningthe hijab and niqab are all examples of how the French government has stripped Muslims of their religious rights. Meanwhile, nuns are still permitted to cover their heads, Christmas and Easter are nationally recognized holidays, Catholic schools receive no criticism, and Churches operate freely. On the other hand, Islamic schools are demonized and treated as backwards. In fact, as of 16 October 2020, “at least seventy-three mosques and Islamic private schools across France [had] been closed by authorities since January, in a bid to combat ‘extremist Islam’” [6]. In reality Islamic schools foster a positive environment and provide a safe space for Muslim students who are so heavily marginalized in French society. As per a student who attended an Islamic school for three years:

 “One of the ‘disadvantages’ [of Muslim schools] is that after having spent three years in an environment where we don’t feel guilty for being Muslim, after three years [of being] far from all the discrimination and signs of Islamophobia, after three years during which we experience liberty, equality and fraternity, the return to real life and notably entering [university], can constitute a shock after such a brutal change in environment.” [7].

Implementing measures such as the hijab ban in the name of laïcité, or French secularism, are methods which are commonly used by conservative parties in order to determine the general public’s response to extreme measures, even before the laws are passed. This is then used by the party to ascertain how and when to actually push these types of policies through. The introduction of this proposal is alarming even if such laws are not actually implemented as other anti-Muslim laws in France share similar origin stories. In the early 1990s, a proposal to ban hijabs and other visible displays of things affiliated to religion (such as the Sikh turban) from schools was considered outrageous and unacceptable to the general public, but was then implemented soon afterwards and until today, still affects Muslim women. [3]

France must take off this disguise of inclusivity and concern for  its Muslim population. In reality, taking such actions is not liberating Muslim women, it is not saving France from extremism, and it is not reflecting secularism. Instead it is a staple of Islamophobia, a display of misogyny as it seeks to police women, and it reflects the double standards to which Muslims are subjected compared to people of other faiths. Ce n’est pas Liberté, Egalité, et Fraternité, c’est l’oppression, discrimination, Islamophobie et inégalité. 

(This is not freedom, equality, and fraternity (National motto of France), rather it is oppression, inequality, discrimination, and Islamophobia.)