France’s Hijab ban and what it means for freedom.
By Ilham Choonara
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 1 of VARSITY News.
In the early months of this year, the French Senate proposed an amendment to their anti-separatism bill, banning minors from wearing hijab as well as banning mothers wearing hijab from accompanying school trips. The bill is not official yet, but the proposed legislation has caused backlash from French citizens as well as Muslims and non-Muslims globally. Activist, healthcare professional, blogger, and model Rawdah Mohamed is one of many who took to social media in protest, creating the #HandsoffMyHijab hashtag.
Mohamed writes in an Instagram caption, “I started the hashtag as I felt the need to humanize the movement… ethnic minorities are always spoken for. I wished to take back the control of our narratives and tell our stories.” The hashtag has received over 4 thousand uses on Instagram, accompanied by its counterpart in French #PasToucheAMonHijab.
A similar ban was passed in Switzerland in March this year, campaigning to “Stop extremism” of women covering their hair and faces. It received majority support from the Swiss public, however, citizens maintain that they oppose laws that dictate how women should dress. Campaigns utilized posters representing women in a face veil (niqab) as violent.
Considering the fact that France has the largest minority of Muslims in Western Europe and only 5% of Swiss citizens are Muslim – the European project of Islamophobia continues to criminalize Islam through exclusionary discourses and laws.
The French ban outlaws the Muslim headscarf – which is a core expression of a Muslim woman’s faith. Women around the world choose to don the hijab as an overt sign of modesty, a mark of their Islamic identity and simply for the sake of God. Contestations have risen regarding the logic of the ban that illegalizes hijab for girls under the age of 18, while the legal age for sex in France is 15. A Jewish user on TikTok (@totallykosher) explained her alliance with Muslim girls: “forcing a woman to show a part of her body which she deems private feels a lot like sexual assault… confining them to their homes all in the name of liberation and Western feminism.”
Non-hijab wearers mostly support the sentiment that banning the headscarf is a violation of women’s rights to liberation. Videos on social media see Muslim girls object against the oppressive law, ending their videos with “hands off my freedom, hands off my rights, hands off my hijab!”
The hijab ban in France is not the first of its kind following a ban of the face veil in 2011 and banning the full modest swimsuit (“burkini”) in 2015. Germany, Austria, Belgium, The Netherlands, Italy, Britain, Denmark, and Bulgaria are among European countries that have passed or proposed discriminatory laws against the face veil in recent years. In a world progressively moving towards acceptance and respect of all individuals, acts of marginalization cause harrowing effects as ordinary Muslims are represented as a threat to society.
As summed up by the head of an intersectional feminist and anti-racial French organization LALLAB: “The argument of banning hijab has nothing to do with liberation and helping Muslim women, it is a continuation of European colonial power that asserts dominance over a religious minority.”