The French senate recently voted to prohibit girls under the age of 18 from wearing a hijab in public. In addition, this bill prevents mothers from wearing a hijab to accompany their children on school trips and it prohibits women from wearing burkinis at public swimming pools. Although the bill has not been passed into law, the fact that it has even been passed in the Senate in France is immensely concerning.
France has a significant problem with Islamophobia that cannot be ignored. In terms of legislation, in 2004, France banned wearing veils in schools. In 2010, France passed legislation banning people from wearing clothing in public that covered their faces to mainly target those who wear burqas — legislation that is clearly Islamophobic, and extremely ironic given that face masks, which obviously cover the face, are now mandatory in many areas. Essentially, if face coverings shield the exact same area as medically-necessary masks, but are deemed religious, people who wear them will be fined.
“France has a significant problem with Islamophobia that cannot be ignored.”
There have been numerous attacks on Islam outside of legislation as well. The National Observatory of Islamophobia reported that in 2020, there were 235 attacks targeting Muslims in France. This is a significant increase from 2019, when there were 154 reported attacks.
French President Emmanuel Macron has enabled much of this Islamophobia. In 2020, Macron described Islam as a religion “in crisis.” Macron also reportedly said that the hijab is not in accordance with French ideals.
All of this is clear evidence of Islamophobia. Many people who are vehemently against the hijab, who say it is oppressive of women, claim they are feminists. However, this is a form of White feminism, which really isn’t feminism at all, as it fails to take into account diverse perspectives and experiences. True, intersectional feminism focuses on the eradication of the patriarchy and the empowerment of all women — all people, really — to make choices for themselves.
“White feminism, which really isn’t feminism at all, as it fails to take into account diverse perspectives and experiences.”
Many of the same people who claim the hijab is oppressive are the ones who will say school dress codes are oppressive, because one cannot and should not tell someone else what they should wear. This reeks of ignorance; telling someone what they’re choosing to wear is oppressive is the same thing as dictating what they can and cannot wear. Giving people the freedom to choose what they can wear means giving this choice to all people, regardless of their religious beliefs.
This extreme prevalence of Islamophobia is certainly not unique to France — it is rampant in many Western nations, including the U.S.
In the U.S., after 9/11, hate crimes against Muslims were five times as common than before 9/11. This statistic was reported in 2016 as well; hate crimes against Muslims still occurred at this level of frequency. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2016, there were 307 anti-Muslim hate crimes, taking the form of assault, intimidation and property damage.
“According to the Pew Research Center, in 2016, there were 307 anti-Muslim hate crimes, taking the form of assault, intimidation and property damage”
We all saw examples of Islamophobia in legislation quite recently with former U.S. President Donald Trump’s Executive Order 13769, commonly known as the “Muslim Ban.” Among other things, this Executive Order prevented people from seven predominantly Muslim nations from visiting the country for 90 days. Like Macron, Trump used anti-Islam rhetoric to attempt to support his actions.
These headlines regarding the prohibition of the hijab are not things we can just brush aside, saying, “Oh, it’s in France, we don’t need to pay attention to it.” Islamophobia is prevalent in the U.S. as well, and has been for years. It is a symptom of the White supremacy that has plagued this nation since its inception. Activism must be intersectional and accommodate everyone, regardless of religion. We cannot stop paying attention to issues simply because they are not occurring in our nation — the reality is, these issues are here too.