Opinion-France’s obsession with Muslim women’s bodies

Published on 18 Sep 2023

This article was published by AA on September 17, 2023 and features Bridge Initiative Senior Researcher Farid Hafez

The Fifth French Republic is continuing to be haunted by racism.

Following the death of Nahel M., which sparked protests throughout France this summer, the hijab ban for pupils in public schools is now being surpassed by yet another regulation of the education minister that reveals the infinite obsession of France’s political elite with Muslim women’s bodies.

An ideological sign: Abaya ban in schools

What started with the expulsion of a 13-year-old girl in 1989, culminated in numerous regulations restricting hijab-wearing women’s access to education. The 2004 hijab ban that outlawed the wearing of clothing deemed too “ostensible” has now been surpassed. It followed months-long debates about banning abayas. The quiet, young, and newly appointed National Education and Youth Minister under President Emmanuel Macron, Gabriel Attal, used the ban to introduce himself to a wide audience. During his first high-profile interview in late August, he announced the abaya ban. And Macron fully supported him, saying he would enforce the ban “uncompromisingly.”

Alain Gabon, professor of French Studies at Virginia Wesleyan University in the US, criticized the fact that the ban was implemented just when “the public school system has been collapsing under multiple structural problems, including dramatically insufficient salaries, the loss of social consideration and status for teachers, increasingly difficult working conditions, and high levels of burnout, anxiety, and depression.”

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