On October 11, a French official disrupted a council meeting. He demanded that a Muslim woman remove her headscarf, “in the name of our secular principles.” The scene has triggered a national debate over the headscarf, Islam, and secularism.
France is in a decades-long battle with itself over the country’s secularism. The French constitution guaranteed secularism more than a century ago. It meant to create a government that is neutral about religions. But some feel it is being used to suppress religion from French daily life.
Christians realize that God cannot be separated from any part of life. “All things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:16-17)
Some say French secularism has become an excuse for mistreating minorities like Muslims. Nicolas Cadene is an official in the government’s Observatory of Secularism. He sees French society dividing. Some citizens are increasingly turning from religion. Others, chiefly Muslims, are growing more visible for embracing their religion.
Cadene also believes the headscarf debate reveals confusion over the 1905 law that separates church and state. He says the law isn’t meant to protect a “white and of Catholic culture” like some seem to insist.
Islam is the second largest religion in the mostly Catholic nation. Many citizens view France’s Muslim population as intruders. They fear Islam threatens the French way of life, including their beloved secularism.
Fifteen years ago, France forbid students from wearing “ostentatious” religious signs in classrooms. Seven years later, France outlawed face-covering veils in French streets.
The mother singled out at the council meeting is known as Fatima E. She says her son wanted her to attend his class meeting. He cried when the man yelled at his mother.
“He felt everyone was against me,” she says. “I felt a rejection I’ve never felt before.”
At five months before public elections, politicians on both sides are taking up today’s debate. Far-right leader Marine Le Pen calls the Muslim headscarf a “political weapon” and “an infraction of secularism.” Meanwhile, France’s President Emmanuel Macron says, “The wearing of a veil (head covering) in public spaces is not my affair.”
The French Senate approved a bill Tuesday that requires women wearing headscarves to remove them when attending school outings.
(Mannequins with veils on display at an exhibition hall for the Muslim World Fair in Le Bourget, outside Paris. AP Photo/Christophe Ena)