France is promoting Islamophobia under the façade of secularism

Alysha Mohamed
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Note: The opinion in this editorial reflects that of a Muslim woman who does not wear a hijab in Canada. No article, author, or publication can reflect the experiences of all Muslim women. Please read with caution and kindness.

In the last week, social media has been buzzing over the news of France’s proposed hijab ban for women under the age of 18. In their attempt to save and “liberate” young Muslim women from their faith, the French government is oppressing women under a façade of secularism.

The Senate voted in favour of “prohibition in the public space of any conspicuous religious sign by minors and of any dress or clothing which would signify an interiorization of women over men” on March 30.

The proposed bill is a clear violation of fundamental human rights, coupled with the frightening normalization of Islamophobia and discrimination against young Muslim women. It seems as though, in the eyes of the French government, young women can choose what to wear—but only if their choices align with Western ideals.

The Senate is upholding a warped white saviour complex and actively working against equality and freedom in their quest to “reinforce republican principles.” There is a clear desire to force young Muslim women to choose between their religion and their region through infantilization and isolation. 

It baffles me how the hijab—a simple piece of cloth and symbol of modesty—is so politicized and unsettling to the French government. The hijab ban is arguably a culmination of the need to police young women’s bodies, and an unfounded perception of all Muslims as extremists.

The hijab ban also contributes to the stereotype that all Muslims are radical, dangerous, and “othered”—the government is essentially writing Islamophobia into the law and ingraining discrimination into the nation’s psyche.

Perceiving Islam in such a deeply negative light actively contributes to violent attacks against Muslims in France. According to the National Observatory of Islamophobia, there were 235 attacks on Muslims in France in 2020—a 53 per cent jump from 2019.

If I, a Muslim woman in Canada who wears crop tops and short dresses, can dress in the manner I choose, Muslim women in France should be allowed to cover their bodies in any way they deem fit.

It also seems counterintuitive to propose a hijab ban in 2021, when nations around the world have been policing the use of face masks for public safety. Both are simple cloth coverings—one is religious and one is a health measure—so why is the hijab perceived as dangerous?

In France, fundamental freedoms are becoming a privilege for those who submit to Western ideals and forsake Islam; there seems to be no way to be a proud French citizen, and to embrace the teachings of the Muslim faith.

Alysha is a third-year English student and The Journal’s Assistant Arts Editor.

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