Discrimination and Violation of Human Rights and Secularism in France

Strategic Council Online - Simultaneously with further prevalence of anti-Islamism and Islamophobia in Europe, the French Senate is pursuing ratification of a ban on Muslim girls under the age of 18 to force them not to wear the hijab or headscarf. Dr. Ali Karbalaei Hosseini - researcher on international law

The move is part of France’s “Separatism Bill”, which dates back to September 11, 2001, when anti-Islamic sentiment grew in that country.

The Macron government has sought to justify the ban by saying it is a necessary step to protect women’s rights and “French values”, but it should be noted that the ban goes beyond its stated goals and violates women’s rights and option for religious freedom; and that too in France, which claims to advocate “freedom” and “equality”.

France became the first country in 2011 to ban the use of the “burqa” or “niqab” in public. The move formed part of the French right-wing narrative in the global debate over Muslims in France, as they sanctified the “Christian heritage”. Over  those years, such anti-Islamic policies have been pursued and implemented under the banner of legislation and so-called “national unity”.

From the point of view of international law, those policies can be considered a systematic attempt by the French government to deprive women of their liberty along with their religious freedom.

The French government has said it wants to “liberate” Muslim women by removing the hijab from social life. Such an action, however, is an interference by the French government in the private life of individuals and is contrary to the principle of secularism of the French constitution or the ideology of French secularism, which promotes a clear separation between state and religion.

The basic tenets of French secularism are based on the premise that the state is “neutral” in religious affairs. The origin of this principle can be traced in the 1905 French law on the separation of church and state. “Religious freedom” has been recognized in France since 1905.

Theoretically, the ideal of French “secularism” should be as such that it does not adhere to any particular religion and guarantees peaceful coexistence between religions by making a clear distinction between the state and the religion. This apparent distinction between the two institutions can be found in Article 1 of the French Constitution as a “secular, democratic and socialist” republic which emphasizes the guarantee of equality of all French citizens regardless of “place of birth, race or religion” with an aim of “respecting all ideas”.

However, French secularism has proved the opposite in practice. The government’s move to ban hijab for girls under the age of 18 is contrary to French secularism, as banning the hijab does not guarantee a clear separation of state and religion. This ban causes panic in the Muslim community of this country, because they may face severe clashes due to this ban.

It should be borne in mind that if the law prohibiting the wearing of headscarves could cause its traces be removed from French public spaces, it could cause French society to recognize it as an intolerable religious symbol and challenge it.

In addition, this prohibition is contrary to Article 1 of the French Constitution, which explicitly emphasizes respect for beliefs. Hijab is considered one of the basic beliefs accepted in Islam and this action of France is disrespectful to the beliefs of the Muslim community of that country. This will not only provoke a strong reaction from Muslims, but will also have the opposite effect, as the strict measures to prevent veiled girls from entering high school and university in previous years have made the hijab of Muslim women more serious in French society, so that the number of people wearing the hijab in France, especially in the suburbs of Paris and other important cities, it is not comparable to the previous strictures mentioned above.

The actions of the French government in this way reflect targeted discrimination against Islam in general and Muslim women in particular.

There are currently an estimated 5.7 million Muslims living in France, although the actual figure is much higher, which is the largest Muslim population in Europe. The main origins of those Muslims go back to Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. The identity of those races is targeted by such an action. Thus, such a ban would not only lead to religious discrimination, but also to racial discrimination.

Even this action has significant social effects and creates a social consensus with a discriminatory view against a particular race, as well as legitimizing anti-Islamism in France through legislation.

The effects of this style of legislation can already be clearly seen in the French social fabric, with anti-Islamic attacks in the country, especially against Muslims of the aforementioned ethnic groups, growing by 53% in 2020.

Given France’s leading role in narrative building in Europe, it should be warned that this discourse building and legal action in Europe will lead to systematic discrimination against Muslims; discrimination not only on the basis of religion, but also on the basis of race and ethnicity. Another discriminatory point is that despite the French government’s strict crackdown on the hijab and Muslim veil, the religious symbols of the Jews are completely neglected.

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