By EMILIA GROWNEY
Attempts to create a nation of equality has ultimately led to the suffocation of any sort of religious diversity; particularly aimed at Muslim communities.
The strive for integration with the use of policies and new legislation to combat and prevent what France advertises as extremism, is significantly dismantling the way of life for French Muslims. Ignorance toward the religion and its practices is shown by Macron’s condoning of Charlie Hebdo images, which aggravate the alienation and othering of French Muslims. Furthermore, this lack of understanding and distinction between a peaceful religion and its extreme has caused a chasm of communication within schools, where respect and understanding of all religious practices should be taught. This has greatly fuelled the hateful narrative which further alienates this community rather than incorporating and teaching to respect different cultural practices and beliefs.
France has been hit with many attacks from extremists who don’t share the same views as the entirety of the Muslim community, yet the Muslim community has been marked with the same brush. With the beheading of Samuel Paty in October 2020 and the Notre Dame Basilica murder of three people being prominent in the media, it is debatable whether the number of attacks occurring in France shed light on a serious rampant terrorist issue, or if a few attacks are just being highlighted in order to push islamophobic narratives which fit certain political agendas.
Moreover, Macron expressing how France is hit with attacks due to there being ‘freedom of expression’ is almost comical given the years of anti-Islamic measures and othering the country has implemented, which contradictory limits the freedom of expression of certain religious groups. The pushed agenda of ‘French Islam’ to combat the fears of Muslim separatism and anti-republicanism seems unnecessary given the non-political nature of the Muslim faith and practice. France is invading citizens’ freedom of choice by involving legislation in matters wherein the state should not be intervening. This targeted discourse on diet and clothing has ultimately caused the same political fracture and societal discontent between Muslims and the government that they feared and initially aimed to prevent.
The façade of concern now seen toward Muslim women, with the recent ban on wearing a hijab for anyone under 18, demonstrates a restriction of women’s autonomy rather than offering them liberation. No country should regulate how individuals dress, and by doing so France is directly attacking the ‘freedom’ Macron claims to be preserving. Removing Muslim women’s right to choose to wear a hijab is not empowering, it is an attack on the Islamic faith and their autonomy. Women choose to wear the hijab and do so freely. The campaign on social media #HANDSOFFMYHIJAB exemplifies how implementing this discriminatory act removes individuals’ identity and sense of self.
After studying the Quran women make well-informed decisions over whether to wear the hijab or not, and by implementing an age restriction the French government patronises women by assuming their naïveté. To suggest that wearing a hijab leads to extremism and is not actually of a woman’s own volition is deeply concerning. Additionally, with the age of sexual consent being 15, as a country, France is declaring that children being exposed to STDs and pregnancy, a responsibility that could last a lifetime, requires less thought and barriers than wearing religious fabrics.This exemplifies the false concern of Western nations over traditions and cultures of communities that do not fit the Western narrative and have been othered, which is incredibly damaging. Implying that hijabs are forced on all Muslim women is a misconception and highlights the ignorance of France’s conservative Senate.
The bill, however, does include protecting the ‘dignity’ of women by banning medical professionals from offering virginity tests and certificates. In doing so, the bill does offer some safeguarding for young women, but overall it still limits women’s authority over their bodies.
It has already been a crime to wear hijabs in schools since 2004, which then expanded into a ban on face veils in public areas in 2010, and is now extending into a ban in all public spaces. This shows that this new bill is not a response to recent extremist events, but is instead a calculated attempt in further restricting Muslim expression.
With 2020 disrupting many countries and propelling them into uncertainty, France enforced mandatory mask-wearing on public transport, yet would still fine individuals seen to be wearing religious face coverings. By doing so the country signifies that even in the middle of a global pandemic, religious clothing is still somehow a concern that needs its full attention.
Image: Flickr (Cold, Indrid)