France’s decades-long feud over the hijab is couched in terms of the country’s tradition of laicite, a strict form of secularism which, among other things, bans people from wearing religious symbols in public schools.
Last week, a member of French President Emmanuel Macron’s La Republique en Marche (LREM) party walked out of a National Assembly hearing, saying the presence of a veiled student went against the country’s secular values – a stunt which has renewed a debate over the hijab.
“As a Member of Parliament and a feminist, committed to Republican values, to laicite and women’s rights, I cannot accept someone who enters a National Assembly hearing wearing a hijab, which for me remains a mark of submission,” Anne-Christine Lang wrote on Twitter shortly after leaving the hearing mid-session.
The student, 21-year-old Maryam Pougetoux, was representing a student’s union during a discussion on how to minimise 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 similar criticism for wearing the headscarf during a television interview.
Wearing the hijab is banned in French schools and for public servants at their workplace.
France’s Muslim community, about 5 million people, comprises about 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 decried what he called the “stigmatisation” of Muslims, warning against linking Islam with “terrorism”.