French lawmakers have continued to prove their commitment to utmost secularism by passing amendments that specifically target the French Muslim community at large. The measures, which were passed by the French Senate on March 30th, aim to prevent any female under the age of 18 from donning a hijab in a public setting, as well as banning the burqini (full body coverage swimsuit) from being worn at a public beach or swimming pool.
These are amendments for an already controversial anti-separatism bill passed by the French National Assembly a month prior on Feb 16th. The French Senate argued that there needs to be “prohibition in the public space of any conspicuous religious sign by minors and of any dress or clothing which would signify inferiority of women over men.” This is a more detailed extension of the anti-separatism bill whose restrictions are a bit broader. The goal of the anti-separatism bill is to stop citizens and private contractors of public services from expressing their religious beliefs and wearing traditional garb that is representative of the said religion.
Although the anti-separatism bill doesn’t explicitly name “Muslims” as a targeted demographic the way the recent amendments do, it has been consistently insinuated as such by French President Emmanuel Macron. According to Foreign Policy, when initially presenting the bill in October 2020, Macron “spoke explicitly about tackling ‘Islamist separatism’ which he described as the act of France’s Muslim community to supplant civil laws with its own laws and customs derived from religious practice, essentially creating two parallel societies.”
One of the reasons why the mainstream conservative party within the French Senate has been at the forefront of fighting “Islamic separatism” is due to an upcoming Presidential election. The party is adamant about taking back voters it has lost to Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party. According to NPR, French political scientist Jean-Yves Camus believes that “if they want to win back those votes, they have to propose legislation that is at least as xenophobic [as it can be].”
Just like the original bill, the amendments faced immediate backlash from both the Muslim community in both France and abroad with “#handsoffmyhijab” trending worldwide. Amani al-Khatahtbeh, a Jordanian-American author and founder of the blog MuslimGirl.com tweeted: “No government should regulate how a woman can dress, whether to keep it on or take it off.”
Somali-Finnish model Rawdah Mohamed joined the conversation with an Instagram post of her proudly wearing her scarf. The caption read: “The Hijab ban is hateful rhetoric coming from the highest level of government and will go down as an enormous failure of religious values and equality.”
Bronze Olympic medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad also shared an Instagram post about the ban with the caption: “This is what happens when you normalize anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim hate speech, bias, discrimination, and hate crimes – Islamophobia written into law”
The amendments still need to be passed by the lower house of the Parliament, which has already spoken out against it. It should also be noted that if the Parliament does vote in favor of the amendments, the French Constitutional Council still has the power to object to its chance of officially becoming law.