Paris, France – Last week, a member of the party La République en Marche (LREM) of French President Emmanuel Macron came out of an audience at the National Assembly, claiming that the presence of a veiled student went against the secular values of the country – a blow that renewed debate on the hijab.
“As a member of Parliament and feminist, attached to republican values, secularism and women’s rights, I cannot accept someone who enters an audience in the National Assembly wearing a hijab, which for me remains a mark of submission, ”Anne-Christine Lang wrote on Twitter shortly after leaving the audience mid-session.
The student, Maryam Pougetoux, 21, represented a student union in a discussion on how to minimize the effects of the COVID-19 health crisis on young people.
Pougetoux is no stranger to attacks for wearing the hijab. In 2018, she received critique for wearing the headscarf in a TV interview.
Wearing the hijab is prohibited in French schools and for civil servants in their workplace.
From France decades The hijab quarrel is framed in terms of the land of secularism tradition, a strict form of secularism that, among other things, prohibits people from wearing religious symbols in public schools.
“In France, we believe that all religions are equal and should not be in the public space,” Alexis Poulin, political analyst and founder of the Le Monde Moderne news site, told Al Jazeera.
But according to Poulin, Lang’s interpretation of the law went too far.
“What she did was a purely political move,” Poulin said. “Nowhere is it written that you are prohibited from entering the National Assembly with a veil. ”
Some MPs criticized Lang’s decision as discrimination.
“It sends a terrible message,” Eric Coqurel, a member of the far-left La France Insoumise party, told French radio FranceInfo. “It’s not secularism, it’s discrimination.”
Fiona Lazaar, a member of Macron’s LREM party, told Al Jazeera that she viewed Lang’s decision as disrespectful.
“I can understand if you are against the veil and what it represents, but at the same time, we have to respect the women who wear it,” Lazaar said. “Some wear it by choice, others do it because it’s forced on them, but we should fight against those who impose it, not against the women who wear it.”
But others, like member of the socialist party Segolene Royal, argued Lang.
« [Pougetoux] knows what it causes, ”Royal told BFMTV. “Fortunately, she has the right to provoke in our society, but at the same time there are limits… there are rules.
The case follows another recent debate earlier this month, on social media, which erupted when a French journalist attempted to link a cooking video of a Muslim woman wearing a hijab to the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
French channel BFMTV tweeted a video of Imane Boune, a 21-year-old food blogger, giving cooking tips to low-budget college students. In response to the message, Judith Waintraub, of the right-wing Le Figaro Magazine, commented: “September 11th”.
Waintraub’s comment sparked an uproar from many in France and was formally condemned by prominent Muslims and French politicians on both sides of the spectrum.
But after receiving death threats, several prominent political figures came to the journalist’s defense, including the French Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin.
“Whatever the disagreements, some of which are profound, I strongly condemn the death threats [Waintraub] received, ”Darmanin posted on Twitter.
Fatima Bonomar, a prominent feminist, responded to Darmanin’s tweet in defense of Boune: “A word for the student who must have read thousands of racist comments against her, was assimilated to assassins via the unacceptable post of this ‘journalist’ who reinforced the wave of hatred against her… her only fault being a video about her culinary activities?
In an Instagram post published several days later, Boune thanked her followers and said she had temporarily deleted her Twitter account and was taking a break from social media.
“I have read each of your very touching posts,” Boune wrote. “Your love and gratitude overshadow their hatred… I am a student trying to help 100,000 students every day. I have neither the time nor the energy to give to these cruel people.
The Muslim community in France, around 5 million people, comprises around 10 percent of the population, the largest Muslim minority in Europe.
Following a similar controversy last year, which involved a far-right politician asking a woman to remove her hijab, French President Emmanuel Macron denounced what he called the “stigma” of Muslims, warning against the link between Islam and “terrorism”.