Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

The Republic Unveiled. France and the Hijab.

What role has anti-semitism played in the introduction

of the legislation?

As mentioned in response to the first question, the

accusation of the French government’s abetting of a

supposed rise of Muslim anti-Semitism in France was

certainly a contributing factor in two senses. First,

as the ban was argued to be a bulwark against the rise

of Islamism, it was interpreted as a means to reduce

Muslim anti-Semitism. Second, and perhaps more

importantly, it was a clear message to world Jewish

organizations that France’s criticisms of Israel and

refusal to engage in the war in Iraq should not be

interpreted as pro-Muslim, anti-Jewish positions.

Paralleling the legislation, Chirac imposed increasing

measures against anti-Semitic acts, including

basically a zero-tolerance policy that has imposed

prison sentences in recent months on a number of

Muslim teenagers convicted of vandalism of Jewish

schools/synagogues or attacks on Jewish children.

How workable is the legislation?

The workability of the legislation is dependent on the

flexibility of its application. Last minute

negotiations by the Socialist party introduced

language that required processes equivalent to

mediation before any expulsion procedures can take

place. This will hopefully create an educational

opportunity for school administrators to learn how to

incorporate headscarved children in classrooms in a

way that does not create a disturbance and can be

operable under the law. If the law, however, proves

to be interpreted by the Education Ministry as a flat

ban without exception, then it will create a veritable

crisis that will extend beyond the numerous

schoolgirls expelled to the larger Muslim community in

France as a whole.

What has been the Feminist reaction in France?

Many French feminists and their North African

counterparts have been outspoken in their opposition

to the hijab for many years, as it represents for them

a sign of subordination of women to male tyranny.

Those taking this position have been explicit in their

support for the law, and were often involved in the

commission deliberations that proposed the

legislation’s wording. These included many

Franco-Maghrebi women, particularly those supporting

Berber/Amazigh cultural positions. Their are

obviously other “feminist” positions in France, the

Islamic world, and elsewhere that have taken a more

nuanced position vis-`-vis the headscarf, seeing it as

even providing a space of freedom for women in

patriarchal Islamic communities. These voices,

unfortunately, were less well heard in the weeks

leading up to the Parliament’s passing of the law.

Some Islamic Feminists have argued the wearing of the

hijab is a political act for women – what reaction has

there been from pro-hijab women in France?

The category of “Islamic feminists” is not an obvious

one. There have been efforts to outline the hijab as

a political act, as a means for inclusion of women in

political spaces usually reserved for men in countries

with Islam as the majority or state religion.

Further, there has been some expression of the hijab

as part of a larger identity politics for women in

majority non-Muslim socieites – particularly in Europe

and North America where identity politics occupies a

larger space of human rights discourse. Women

defending the right to wear the hijab in France have

been outspoken in their claims to simultaneous Muslim

identity and French citizenship. Women-dominated

demonstrations throughout France in the weeks prior to

the parliamentary debates notably emphasized this dual

identity as non-contradictory – they proudly displayed

their national identity cards, sang the Marsellaise,

and even wore tricolored hijabs. They upheld their

right to wear the hijab as a fundamental human right

consonant with France’s republican ideology of

liberty, equality, fraternity. They emphasized that,

unlike the claims often made (by French feminists and

others) on their behalf, wearing the hijab was their

personal choice and was not imposed upon them by their

fathers or husbands.

Would it be fair to say that rather than encouraging

integration in French society, that this legislation

will encourage the opposite – with many muslim girls

changing from state to private schools?

It depends what is meant by “integration.” Indeed,

many Muslim girls will be forced out of the public

education system into correspondance courses or

enrollment in Catholic schools. However, how this

will affect “integration” is not so obvious. In my

years doing research in France with North African

immigrants, I encountered many highly successful young

men and women whose parents had elected to educate

them in Catholic parochial schools. Given the

impoverished state of public housing project schools –

that often, in spite of the best efforts of school

teachers and administrators, tend to act more as

holding pens than education establishments – such a

choice is completely understandable, and it is

arguable that it will lead to greater rather than

lesser “integration.” That said, the legislation more

generally threatens to further marginalize an already

marginalized populace, whose sense of “exclusion” will

only increase and whose cognitive and identity ties to

the French nation will conceivably be weakened. Thus,

in terms of “integration” as the creation of

economically productive members of society, the

effects of the law are indeterminate and could

conceivably be positive. However, in terms of

“integration” as the production of a future national

citizenry willing to give their lives for their

country, the effects of the law will be clearly


How important is the Islamic electorate in French

politics and what is the likely effect of the

legislation on people’s voting?

Representing as many as 8% of the electorate, France’s

Islamic population are theoretically an important

voting bloc. However, they are by no means unified,

being fragmented by ideology, nationality, race, and

ethnicity. While young, politically-active

Franco-Maghrebis have often taken leftist (if not far

leftist) positions, many Muslim immigrants (including

notably the population of “harkis” (Algerian Muslims

who participated in the French war effort during the

Algerian War and were subsequently “repatriated”))

have historically voted for rightist parties, both for

fiscally conservative reasons and as a sign of their

membership in France. Indeed, some have even

supported anti-immigrant positions and discourses.

Thus, at a national level it would be difficult to

constitute an “Islamic electorate” as a single body.

However, at a local level the “Islamic vote” can be

very important, particularly in municipalities around

Marseille, Lyon, Paris, Roubaix, Lille, Strasbourg,

and Mulhouse where many Muslim immigrants live. In

certain of these municipalities, opposition parties

(particularly on the far left) may very well be able

to mobilize Muslim voters in support of their

candidates in light of the law.

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