Is France really planning to ban the Muslim headscarf?

Recent days have seen a proliferation of social media posts protesting against a proposed 'hijab ban' in France - but is there really a plan to ban the Muslim headscarf?

Is France really planning to ban the Muslim headscarf?
Muslim headscarves are not banned n the streets of France. Photo: Fred Dufour/AFP

What has happened?

The protests started when Somali-Norwegian model Rawdah Mohamed posted a selfie on Instagram account with the hashtage #handsoffmyhijab slamming France’s proposal to ban the Muslim headscarf.

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A post shared by Rawdah 🕊 (@rawdis)

The hashtag, and its French equivalent #Pastoucheamonhijab was shared around the world, including by Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad and the US congresswoman Ilhan Omar.

What proposals are they referring to?

These are amendments put forward by the Senate, the French upper house of parliament, to the government’s ‘anti-separatism’ law.

This is a flagship piece of legislation from Emmanuel Macron’s government that aims to ‘strengthen republican values’ and combat extreme forms of Islam which promote separatism and terror attacks.

ANALYSIS What is contained in France’s law against Islamic extremism?

The bill includes a variety of measures such as cracking down on hate speech, limiting the right to home-schooling and giving the government extra powers to limit foreign funding of places of worship – however it does not contain any measures further limiting the right to wear the hijab in France.

The bill passed through the Assemblée nationale – the lower house of parliament – in February and is now being debated in the Senate, where Senators have taken the opportunity to add several amendments targeting Muslim women – including banning mums from wearing the hijab when accompanying school trips, banning girls under the age of 18 from wearing the headscarf at all and banning the wearing of the full-body ‘burkini’ swimsuit.

So does that mean these amendments will be adopted?

No, most political commentators say these measures are highly unlikely to become law.

Under the French political system it is the Asemblée nationale that has the final say on legislation, not the Senate, and Senators have already tried and failed several times in recent years to introduce similar measures further limiting the wearing of the hijab.

Similar amendments were also proposed when the bill passed through the lower house in February and were voted down and France’s Interior Minister has strongly argued against a ban on the wearing of the hijab in all public spaces.

Even if these measures were voted through both parliaments, they would be likely to be ruled unlawful.

In the case of the ‘burkini ban’, several local mayors in 2016 attempted to introduce this, only to have their bans overturned after they were ruled unlawful by the Conseil d’Etat (Council of State).

READ ALSO ‘My body, my choice’ – Muslim women in France on why they wear the hijab

Are there restrictions in France on what Muslim women can wear?

Yes, France in 2010 brought in a complete ban on full-face coverings including the burka and niqab. This cannot be worn in any public space in France, at risk of a €150 fine.

There are further restrictions on the wearing of the headscarf in some public buildings. In line with France’s laws on laÏcité (secularism) it is forbidden to wear overt symbols of religion – including the Muslim headscarf – in government buildings including schools and universities or for public officials such as teachers, firefighters or police officers to wear overt symbols of religion.

EXPLAINED What exactly does laïcité mean in France?

However the hijab is legal in public spaces including shops, cafés and the streets.

Burkininis are not allowed in public swimming pools in France where there are strict rules on dress (Speedos only for men and compulsory swimming caps) but are allowed on beaches and in other public spaces.

Member comments

  1. In my Oxford/Hachette dictionary “laicite”, as a concept, is defined as “secularism” (as in the article). In my Concise Oxford English dictionary “secularism” is a derivative of “secular”, in turn defined as “not religious, sacred or spiritual”, also in the Christian Church defined as “not subject to or bound by religious rule” – presumably Christian Church rule. Additionally there are other meanings not religiously related.
    Unfortunately I don’t have a decent French language dictionary to see how “laicite” is defined in its own language. Can someone help?
    So if “laicite” becomes law as so far interepreted, the possibility emerges of any sort of religious identity, of any faith, becoming illegal. This in turn will lead to a host of scholarly legal interpretation as to who wears what on a daily basis, let alone down on the beach. Don’t forget those dress elements which can be used to disguise recognition for clandestine or vain purposes.
    And if such laws are passed, then the rawdis type of experience (or worse) will need to be sanctioned for the protection of all.
    Does the word “tolerance” come in to this at any point?

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OPINION: Macron will risk anger on streets rather than abandon pension reform quietly

The pensions battle in France is only just beginning and President Emmanuel Macron will risk anger on the streets rather than abandon his flagship reform quietly, writes John Lichfield.

OPINION: Macron will risk anger on streets rather than abandon pension reform quietly

The massed ranks of opponents of pension reform were not so massed or so dense on the third day of nationwide protest yesterday. Only 757,000 people turned out, compared to 1,270,000 last Tuesday.

Rail, Metro, school and energy strikes were also less powerful – attracting, for instance only one in four rail workers, compared to one in two on the first day of action on 19 January.

Is the government winning? Are the protests fading now that the legislation has started its noisy journey through the National Assembly?

Not really. Not yet.

There is another big day of marches and some scattered strikes on Saturday. The eight trades union federations have chosen – unusually – to demonstrate at the weekend in the hope that private sector workers, unwilling to lose wages on a weekday, will turn out en masse.

The numbers game is crucial. Beneath their front of unity, the eight union federations are divided.  The gamble on weekend protests is the strategy proposed by the moderate unions, led by the Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail (CFDT).

READ ALSO: 5 minutes to understand . . . French pension reform

If the Saturday demos flop, the militant unions will want to move to open-ended strikes in key sectors like the railways, power plants, docks and oil refineries. That could bring the country – or at least the government – to its knees, they say.

Au contraire, say the moderate unions. Endless strikes would help President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne by angering public opinion which is now 70 percent against the reform.

The first few days of debate in the National Assembly this week have been just as noisy as the street protests. Left wing deputies have shouted and waved their arms a great deal in support of their 18,000 wrecking amendments.

The minority Borne government has won a series of modest victories. Its chances of completing the first reading by its self-imposed deadline of next Friday (17th Feb) remain uncertain.

All depends on the 61 centre-right Les Républicains (LR) deputies, who are supposedly committed to a modest pension reform long demanded by their own party. Modest? Macron and Borne want to move the official retirement age from 62 to 64 by 2030. Most European countries already retire officially at 65 or later.

A dozen or so of the LR deputies are playing a cat and mouse game. Whenever Prime Minister Borne answers them, they change their question.

At the weekend, she conceded that early retirement for people with “long careers” should be extended to those who start work between 20 and 21. No good, the Républicains rebels said. We want the exception to apply to anyone who worked in their teens – even during a summer holiday. That would make the reform meaningless, as even senior Républicains admit.

The leader of the centre-right awkward squad is a young man called Aurélien Pradié, aged 36, deputy for the Lot in the south west. Mark the name. He is a coming man in French politics – or so he believes at least.

Pradie says that he is a new kind of socially minded, centre-right politician, who can revive the near-defunct Les Républicains or Gaullist brand. So far, he appears to be a kind of “Jacques Chirac revisited”, a man with a sensitive ear for public opinion but few principles and no coherent ideas.

He might go far. But he will not take France very far. He represents a return to the muddle-along politics of the 1990s.   

The parliamentary arithmetic is tight. Macron and Borne need around 40 of the 61 centre-right deputies to vote with them. Pradié has between 12 and 20 followers.

The numbers on the street will influence the numbers in parliament. The stronger the public opposition, the more courageous or self-promoting Pradié and his supporters will become.

The size of Saturday’s demos will determine future union strategy. It may also decide whether Macron and Borne can steer the reform through a first reading in the National Assembly by the next Friday’s deadline.

Borne may have some more concessions to make on long careers but nothing much. She has already abandoned most of the financial savings expected from the reform this year and next. She cannot afford to give much more away or the whole reform will become pointless.

READ MORE: What is Article 49.3 and how often do French politicians use it?

If she cannot assemble the votes, she can use her nuclear weapon  – the government’s emergency power under Article 49.3 of the constitution to impose legislation without a vote. She has said several times that she has no plan to do so on such a sensitive subject.

Do not believe it. Macron has too much riding on pension reform to abandon it quietly. He will take the risk of conflagration on the streets and use 49.3 if he has to.

Is the battle won and lost? I fear it has only just begun.