Outrage as French politician demands woman remove her hijab

29th Nov 2019

Elham Asaad Buaras

Dozens of academics, artists, film directors, actors and journalists urged French President Emmanuel Macron on October 15 to condemn a far-right politician who demanded a Muslim mother remove her hijab during a primary school trip to a council building.

According to an open letter published in the Le Monde daily, 90 people – including actor Omar Sy and journalist Alain Gresh – called on Macron to condemn Julien Odoul, who ordered a Muslim woman to remove her headscarf at a recent regional council meeting.

A photograph of the woman identified only as Fatima E embracing her son, who was crying over the public shaming, went viral. Odoul, a member of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) party, caused widespread outrage when he posted a video on Twitter of him confronting a woman who accompanied pupils on October 11 to the regional parliament in Bourgogne-Franche-Comte in eastern France.

Odoul told Fatima to uncover herself. “Madame has ample time to wear her veil at home, on the street, but not here, not today,” he said, citing France’s values of secularism, known as laïcité.

There is no law banning headscarves inside Government buildings, or any other public place except in schools where teachers and employees must observe “religious neutrality.”

A 2010 law banning face-concealing clothes was inapplicable in this instance.
Fatima said that the only thing she could initially do is to smile “at his stupidity.”

She added that she received support from several elected regional officials who wanted her to stay. “When I saw my son crying, I told them that I will not be able to stay.” She said that she also faced verbal attacks when she was leaving.

On her way out, she met right-wing regional elected member Karine Champy who told her, “You will see, we’ll win.” She said that the RN member wanted to provoke her to react.

“They destroyed my life,” the mother said. She added that she felt a “rejection that I had not felt before, and that will have consequences.” She said that she now understood why women with hijabs refuse to participate in school trips. Members of the RN then walked out of the chamber before issuing a press statement denouncing “an Islamist provocation.”

But many, including regional parliament Speaker, Marie-Guite Dufay, criticised Odoul’s actions. She explained that neither the council’s rules nor the law forbids wearing a headscarf inside the auditorium. “We can ban someone whose behaviour is liable to disturb the session from accessing it,” she said. “There is no reason for this person to be asked to leave.”

Dufay denounced a “surge of hatred” and what she described as “undignified behaviour” on the part of a lawmaker.

With the RN playing up the issue, the controversy has exposed divisions within the centrist ruling party of Macron which is keenly aware Marine Le Pen’s faction is its chief political foe.

Even the country’s Education Minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, seemed unable to pick a side, stressing that “the law does not prohibit women wearing headscarves to accompany children”, while saying “the headscarf itself is not desirable in our society” because of “what it says about the status of women, what it says about our values.”

Government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye said it was important to allow space for exchanges between women who wear the hijab and those who do not, as this promoted “inclusivity.”

But Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire came to the defence of “a culture in which religion remains in the intimate, private sphere and does not have a place in (the) public sphere.”

And Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin added: “I would prefer that women in the Republic, in France, do not wear a headscarf.” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told Parliament he was opposed to any kind of new law specifically targeting what should be worn on school trips.

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Over 120 people attended a landmark conference on the media reporting of Islam and Muslims. It was held jointly by The Muslim News and Society of Editors in London on September 15.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence event is to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to society. Over 850 people from diverse background, Muslim and non-Muslim, attended the gala dinner.

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