Le Pen Joins French Conservatives Seeking Immigration Referendum

Here we go again, with a race to the bottom:

After trying to moderate her image for months, far-right leader Marine Le Pen went back to basics by casting a national conversation about immigration as a battle for the soul of France and renewing a pledge to hold a referendum on the issue if she defeats Emmanuel Macron next year.

“The April 2022 election will be about our civilization,” Le Pen said during a press conference on Tuesday. “Will France remain France, or be brushed aside by the uncontrolled torrent of massive migration flows that will wipe out our culture, our values, our way of life.”

Le Pen said she’d consult the French about changing the constitution to “drastically” reduce immigration. She pledged to introduce a law that will prevail over international treaties and allow her to breach European Union legislation if a majority of citizens backs the idea.

“What we are offering is a ready-for-use solution,” she said.

Several presidential hopefuls on the traditional right are seeking tougher rules on who is allowed to live in the country, including Michel Barnier and Xavier Bertrand.

And though Macron ran as a centrist in 2017, he has since become more conservative and his government has also talked about the need to control immigration. On Tuesday, it said it will reduce the number of visas granted to Algerians, Moroccans and Tunisians to protest their countries’ refusal to facilitate the return of nationals in “an irregular situation” in France.

But Le Pen’s harsher tone may be more the result of the threat posed by ultra-right media personality Eric Zemmour, who has been publicly toying with a run. He has previously demanded a referendum to overhaul immigration law as well as a short-term moratorium on entries. He links immigration to terrorism.

Le Pen is placing second in surveys of voting intentions, after Macron, though polls show support for Zemmour rising and cutting into her voter base. If Zemmour joins the crowded contest, he’d likely increase the chances Le Pen would be knocked out of the second round and throw the race wide open.

During the press conference, Le Pen said she wants to make it illegal for people from different countries to live in closed communities as a way of preserving their traditions and ban undocumented people from regularizing their situation. The Schengen accord, which allows free circulation for people in Europe, would need to be renegotiated, she said.

Source: Le Pen Joins French Conservatives Seeking Immigration Referendum

France cuts back visas for Maghreb nationals over immigration policy

Playing hardball and politics:

France will slash the number of visas available to nationals from Maghreb countries because of their governments’ refusal to take back illegal migrants sent home by the French authorities, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Tuesday.

Immigration is becoming a key campaign issue for the French presidential election set for April next year, with right-wing and far-right parties challenging centrist President Emmanuel Macron’s policies. Macron has not yet said whether he will stand for re-election.

Attal said the French government would halve the number of visas available to nationals from Algeria and Morocco and reduce those for Tunisians by almost a third.

“It is a decision that is made necessary as these countries do not accept back nationals whom we do not want and cannot keep in France,” he told French Europe 1 radio.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen said on Monday she would call a referendum proposing drastic limits on immigration if she is elected president next year.

Le Pen said on France 2 television the referendum would propose strict criteria for entering French territory and for acquiring French nationality, as well as giving French citizens priority access to social housing, jobs and social security benefits. read more

In 2017, she made it to the second round of the presidential election, but was defeated by Macron, who won more than 66% of the vote.

Source: France cuts back visas for Maghreb nationals over immigration policy

France grants citizenship to 12,000 Covid frontline workers

Quicker than Canada (as of this week, only about 4,300 have applied out of 20,000 slots):

France has granted citizenship to more than 12,000 frontline workers whose jobs put them at risk during the Covid pandemic under a special fast-track scheme.

As well as speeding up the application process, which normally takes up to two years, the government also cut the residency requirement from five years to two.

“Frontline workers responded to the call of the nation, so it is right that the nation takes a step towards them,” said the citizenship minister, Marlène Schiappa. “The country pulled through thanks to them.

“I welcome our new compatriots to French nationality and thank them in the name of the republic. The country also thanks them.”

In September 2020, the interior ministry invited those who had “actively contributed” to fighting the Covid health crisis to apply for fast-track naturalisation. On Thursday, Schiappa said 16,381 had applied and 12,012 applications were approved.

Among them were health professionals, security and cleaning staff, those who looked after essential workers’ children, home help workers and refuse collectors, the minister announced.

John Spacey, a Briton, was one of those given fast-track nationality as a foreigner who had “proved their commitment to the republic” in the eyes of the ministry.

Spacey lives in the Creuse region in central France and works for an organisation that provides domestic care for elderly people. “It genuinely feels like a great honour to be offered citizenship,” he told the Local earlier this year.

“France has been very good to me since my arrival and has given me opportunities I could never have dreamed of before stepping off the Eurostar in 2016 – a home of my own, a wonderful relationship, a 20-year-old Peugeot 106, a 40-year-old Mobilette, the most satisfying job in the world and a very bright future.

“Soon, I’ll be able to vote, will regain my freedom of movement and will finally feel fully European once more, finally feel fully integrated into the nation I’ve already come to love like my own.”

Spacey said he also received a one-off bonus payment from the state “as a kind of merci for services rendered during the crisis … something for which I was very grateful and that I’d not expected, given I’d been paid for my work anyway”.

He added: “Then came another, far more unexpected, thank you – the chance to apply for French nationality six months earlier than would have been possible under the normal rules and to have the process fast-tracked. All for doing a job I love.”

In April 2020, French hospital staff and nursing home workers were awarded tax-free bonuses of between €1,000 and €1,500 as part of the government thank you for their work during the Covid-19 crisis.

In August 2020, France’s 320,000 home-care workers were given Covid-19 bonuses of up to €1,000.

Source: France grants citizenship to 12,000 Covid frontline workers

UK: How have Priti Patel’s previous pledges on immigration fared?

Of note (somewhat comparable issues with respect to calls to close the Canada-USA Safe Third Country Agreement “loophole” for asylum seekers between official points of entry):

The viability of Thursday’s announcement by Priti Patel that small boats carrying migrants across the Channel will be turned back to France by Border Force officials has been questioned by politicians on all sides, and by the immigration services union, lawyers and human rights organisations.

So it may be that its chances of actually being put into practice are slim. Here is a quick guide to what happened after previous high-profile announcements by the home secretary.

Small boat arrivals

In October 2019 Patel pledged to halve migrant crossings by the end of that month – at that time there had been more than 1,400 people crossing in small boats since the beginning of 2019. So far in 2021, 13,500 migrants have crossed the Channel, including 1,000 in the past two days.

The statement from the home secretary about turning small boats back mid-Channel crossing was not an official Home Office announcement. It is not clear whether or not a published policy will emerge.

Toufique Hossain, director of public law at Duncan Lewis solicitors, said: “It is difficult to see a legal basis for what is effectively collective expulsion. The desperate need to look tough on immigration may lead to unlawful and dangerous consequences.”

Offshoring asylum seekers

Reports emerged in June this year that the new immigration bill would include plans to hold asylum seekers in processing centres outside the UK. It is understood that officials working for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office were tasked with exploring whether any other country would be receptive to accommodating asylum seekers who had sought sanctuary in the UK while their claims were processed. Australia adopted this controversial system in 2001 and Denmark has passed legislation enabling it to do the same. Countries such as Rwanda, along with Ascension Island and disused oil rigs, were mooted. Installing giant wave machines in the Channel was also mentioned in media briefings last October. Since then no more has been heard about these plans.

Sending small boat arrivals who passed through safe European countries back there

This was promised after the conclusion of the Brexit transition period at the end of 2020. But nobody has yet been sent back. The Home Office said that this category of asylum claims would be ruled inadmissible. According to Migration Observatory evidence this week to the joint committee on human rights, 4,500 notices of intent have been served since the start of 2021 relating to cases that may be considered inadmissible. But so far only seven cases have been declared as such and nobody has so far been returned to a European country post-Brexit.

Increased number of deportations

Deportations and enforced removals have declined year on year since 2012, with 3,300 enforced returns in 2020, 54% fewer than in 2019. While the sharp drop last year can be partly attributed to Covid, the steady year-on-year reduction cannot. The Home Office says the reduction is partly due to some of those in detention prior to deportation raising “issues”.

Tougher provisions in new immigration bill

The nationality & borders bill itself is subject to a legal challenge questioning the lawfulness of the consultation process. Even some of the Home Office’s key contractors such as the charity Migrant Help, which operates a helpline on behalf of the Home Office for asylum seekers, have been critical of the new bill, saying they believe it will damage the UK’s reputation as a world leader in its approach to human rights and social responsibility.

Source: How have Priti Patel’s previous pledges on immigration fared?

Rights groups take French racial profiling case to top body

Of note:

After months of government silence, leading rights organizations and grassroots groups took France’s first class-action lawsuit targeting the nation’s powerful police machine to the highest administrative authority Thursday, to fix what they contend is a culture of systemic discrimination in identity checks.

The 220-page file, chock full of examples of racial profiling by French police, was being delivered Thursday to the Council of State, the ultimate arbiter on the use of power by authorities. It was compiled by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Open Society Justice Initiative and three grassroots organizations that work with youth.

The NGOs allege that French police target Black people and people of Arab descent in choosing who to stop and check. Police officers who corroborate such accounts are among people cited in the file.

The groups behind the lawsuit contend the practice is rooted in a culture of systemic discrimination within the police with far-reaching consequences for people of .

“It’s a humiliating experience. You’re in the street, you’re frisked, patted down and questioned in front of everyone,” said Issa Coulibaly, head of Pazapas, a youth association in eastern Paris involved in the suit.

Instead of money for victims, the suit seeks deep reforms within law enforcement to ensure an end to racial profiling, including a change in a penal code that currently gives officers carte blanche to check IDs — with no trace that they have done so. Among other things, they also want an independent mechanism to lodge complaints and training for police officers.

The groups took the case to the Council of State after the government failed to meet a four-month deadline to respond to the opening salvo in the class-action suit.

The prime minister’s office and the justice and interior ministries were initially served notice of the suit in late January — the first step in a two-stage process in a French class-action case. The law gave them four months to open talks with the NGOs on how to meet their demands for change within the police, before the matter could go before a court.

Those who brought the action contend it is in the interest of authorities, including law enforcement, to improve the notoriously poor relationship between police and youth in some .

Antoine Lyon-Caen, the lead lawyer in the case, said it is the first time a class-action suit against the French state is going before the Council of State. He called the government silence “humiliating” for racial profiling victims.

“Lots of people suffer from these practices and the government didn’t even feel a need to say something,” he said in an interview.

Coulibaly said the official silence is in keeping with “institutional denial” of the problem. But he said this next legal step is a new dose of hope for change.

Children as young as 10 can be checked if they are Black or perceived as of Arab descent, said Coulibaly, a 41-year-old Black man who said he was subjected to numerous undue ID checks starting at the age of 14.

“It’s a reality for all working class and a reality for the poor and where there are people of immigrant origin,” he said.

French courts have found the state guilty of racial profiling in identity checks in the past, most recently in June when a Paris appeals court ruled that discrimination was behind police ID checks on three high school students of at a train station in 2017. The court convicted the French state of a “grave fault” and ordered reparations paid.

“The ID check is really the door for lots of things that can be very destructive in the life of a person,” Coulibaly said. “It can degenerate. After a 50th check in your life, the 10th in a week or the third check in a day, especially when you’re young, you have a tendency to react, to react badly.”

The Council of State has the power to order the French state to end such practices and make the requested changes, Lyon-Caen said. The law requires a decision in a “reasonable” time, but that could be a year or more, he said, noting that the unprecedent case takes the Council of State into uncharted territory.

Source: Rights groups take French racial profiling case to top body

Anger as French protesters compare vaccines to Nazi horrors

Outrageous but unfortunately all too typical of the more extreme anti-vaxxers:

A French Holocaust survivor has denounced anti-vaccination protesters comparing themselves to Jews who were persecuted by Nazi Germany during World War II. French officials and anti-racism groups joined the 94-year-old in expressing indignation.

As more than 100,000 people marched around France against government vaccine rules on Saturday, some demonstrators wore yellow stars recalling the ones the Nazis forced Jews to wear. Other demonstrators carried signs evoking the Auschwitz death camp or South Africa’s apartheid regime, claiming the French government was unfairly mistreating them with its anti-pandemic measures.

“You can’t imagine how much that upset me. This comparison is hateful. We must all rise up against this ignominy,” Holocaust survivor Joseph Szwarc said Sunday during a ceremony commemorating victims of antisemitic and racist acts by the French state, which collaborated with Adolf Hitler’s regime.

“I wore the star, I know what that is, I still have it in my flesh,” Szwarc, who was deported from France by the Nazis, said with tears in his eyes. “It is everyone’s duty to not allow this outrageous, antisemitic, racist wave to pass over us.”

France’s secretary of state for military affairs, who also attended the ceremony, called the protesters’ actions “intolerable and a disgrace for our republic.”

The International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism said the protesters were “mocking victims of the Holocaust” and minimizing crimes against humanity committed during World War II.

Saturday’s protests involved a mix of people angry at the government for various reasons, and notably supporters of the far right. Prominent French far-right figures have been convicted in the past of antisemitism, racism and denying the Holocaust.

The government is introducing a bill Monday requiring all health care workers to get vaccinated against the coronavirus and requiring COVID passes to enter restaurants and other venues.

At a large protest in Paris on Saturday against vaccine rules, one demonstrator pasted a star on his back reading “not vaccinated.” Bruno Auquier, a 53-year-old town councilor who lives on the outskirts of Paris, drew a yellow star on his T-shirt and handed out arm bands with the star.

“I will never get vaccinated,” Auquier said. “People need to wake up,” he said, questioning the safety of COVID-19 vaccines.

Auquier expressed concern that the new measures would restrict his two children’s freedom and pledged to take them out of school if vaccination becomes mandatory.

Polls suggest most French people support the measures, but they have prompted anger in some quarters. Vandals targeted two vaccination centers in southwest France over the weekend. One was set on fire, and another covered in graffiti, including a reference to the Nazi occupation of France.

France has reported more than 111,000 deaths in the pandemic, and new confirmed cases are increasing again, raising worries about renewed pressure on hospitals and further restrictions that would damage jobs and businesses.

Source: Anger as French protesters compare vaccines to Nazi horrors

A French Teenager’s Anti-Islam Rant Unleashed Death Threats. Now 13 Are on Trial.

No excuse for death threats, words have consequences:

The French girl, 16, was sharing highly personal details about her life in a livestream on Instagram, including her attraction to women. Just not Black or Arab women, she said.

When insults and death threats started pouring in to her Instagram account in response to her comments in January 2020, some from viewers saying she was an affront to Islam, the teenager, Mila, dug in, quickly posting another video.

“I hate religion,” she declared. “The Quran is a religion of hatred.” She also used profanity to describe Islam and the crudest of imagery in referring to God.

The ensuing onslaught of threats after the video went viral has landed 13 people in court on charges of online harassment.

The case has put a spotlight on the roiling French debate over freedom of expression and blasphemy, especially when it touches on Islam. It is also a landmark test for recent legislation that broadens France’s definition of cyberharassment in regards to attacks on the internet, where vitriol is plentiful, modulated debate less so.

“We are setting the rules of what is acceptable and what is unacceptable,” Michaël Humbert, the presiding judge, said at the trial.

Some looked to history to capture the brutality of what Mila experienced online. Mila’s lawyer said she had been subjected to a digital stoning. The prosecutor in the case spoke of a “lynching 2.0.”

More than a year after Mila — The New York Times is withholding her last name because she has been the subject of harassment — posted her videos, her life remains in a tumult. She lives under police protection and she no longer attends school in person.

The 13 defendants, some teenagers themselves, are on trial in Paris, most accused of making death threats. They face the possibility of jail. The verdict is expected Wednesday.

In France’s Military, Muslims Find a Tolerance That Is Elusive Elsewhere

Of note, a rare success story of integration in France:

Gathered in a small mosque on a French military base in southern Lebanon, six soldiers in uniform stood with their heads bowed as their imam led them in prayer next to a white wall with framed paintings of Quranic verses.

After praying together on a recent Friday, the French soldiers — five men and one woman — returned to their duties on the base, where they had recently celebrated Ramadan, sometimes breaking their fast with Christians. Back home in France, where Islam and its place in society form the fault lines of an increasingly fractured nation, practicing their religion was never this easy, they said.

“The tolerance that we find in the armed forces, we don’t find it outside,” said Second Master Anouar, 31, who enlisted 10 years ago and who, in keeping with French military rules, could be identified only by his first name.

For the past two decades, as France’s Muslim population has sought a greater role in the nation, officials have often tried to restrict Islam’s public presence under an increasingly strict interpretation of French secularism, known as laïcité.

law aimed at the Muslim veil in 2004 banned the wearing of religious symbols in public schools, and prompted years of anguished debates over France’s treatment of its Muslim population, Europe’s largest. A new law against Islamism by President Emmanuel Macron is expected to strengthen government control over existing mosques and make it harder to build new ones.

But one major institution has gone in the opposite direction: the military.

The armed forces have carved out a place for Islam equal to France’s more established faiths — by hewing to a more liberal interpretation of laïcité. Imams became chaplains in 2005. Mosques have been built on bases in France and across the world, including in Deir Kifa, where some 700 French soldiers help a United Nations force keep peace in southern Lebanon. Halal rations are on offer. Muslim holidays are recognized. Work schedules are adjusted to allow Muslim soldiers to attend Friday Prayer.

The military is one of the institutions that has most successfully integrated Muslims, military officials and outside experts said, adding that it can serve as a model for the rest of France. Some drew parallels to the United States Army, which was ahead of the rest of American society in integrating Black Americans.

In a country where religious expression in government settings is banned — and where public manifestations of Islam are often described as threats to France’s unity, especially after a series of Islamist attacks since 2015 — the uncontested place of Islam in the military can be hard to fathom.

“My father, when I told him there was a Muslim chaplain, didn’t believe me,” said Corporal Lyllia, 22, who attended Friday Prayer wearing a veil.

“He asked me three times if I was sure,” she added. “He thought that a chaplain was necessarily Catholic or Protestant.”

Sergeant Azhar, 29, said he grew up facing discrimination as a Muslim and difficulty practicing his religion when he worked in a restaurant before joining the military. In the army, he said, he could practice his religion without being held in suspicion. Forced to live together, French of all backgrounds know more of one another than in the rest of society, he said.

“In an army, you have all religions, all colors, all origins,” he said. “So that allows for an open-mindedness you don’t find in civilian life.”

At the heart of the matter is laïcité, which separates church and state, and has long served as the bedrock of France’s political system. Enshrined in a 1905 law, laïcité guarantees the equality of all faiths.

But over the years, as Islam became France’s second biggest religion after Roman Catholicism, laïcité has increasingly been interpreted as guaranteeing the absence of religion in public space — so much so that the topic of personal faith is a taboo in the country.

Philippe Portier, a leading historian on laïcité, said there was a tendency in France “to tone down religion in all spheres of social encounter,” especially as officials advocate a stricter interpretation of laïcité to combat Islamism.

By contrast, the military increasingly views religion as essential to its own management, he said.

“Diversity is accepted because diversity will come to form the basis of cohesion,” he said, adding that, contrary to the thinking in many French institutions, the underlying rationale in the military was that “there can’t be cohesion if, at the same time, you don’t make compromises with the beliefs of individuals.”

Military officials said they had been sheltered from the politicization of laïcité that occurs in the rest of society.

“The right approach is to consider laïcité as a principle and not as an ideology,” said Jean-Jacques, the Muslim chaplain in Deir Kifa. When it becomes an ideology, he added, it “inevitably creates inequalities.”

The Rev. Carmine, the Protestant chaplain on the base, said that the army was proof that laïcité works as long as it is not manipulated. “Why do we talk so much about laïcité in recent years in France?” he said. “It’s often to create problems.”

A 2019 French Defense Ministry report on laïcité in the military concluded that freedom of religious expression does not undermine the army’s social cohesion or performance. In contrast to how laïcité has been carried out elsewhere in society, the report promotes “a peaceful laïcité” that can “continue adapting itself to the country’s social realities.”

“The liberal model of laïcité that the military embodies is a laïcité of intelligence, a laïcité of fine-tuning,” said Eric Germain, an adviser on military ethics and religious issues at the ministry, who oversaw the report.

Mr. Germain said the military has been faithful to the 1905 law, which states that to safeguard freedom of worship, chaplaincy services are legitimate in certain enclosed public places, like prisons, hospitals and military facilities. The state has a moral responsibility to provide professionalized religious support to its military, he added.

The integration of Muslims into the military mirrored France’s long and complicated relationship with the Islamic world.

Muslim men from France’s colonial empire served as soldiers as far back as the 1840s, said Elyamine Settoul, an expert on Muslims and the French military at the Paris-based National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts. Early last century, there were fitful attempts to cater to Muslim soldiers’ religious needs, including the appointment of a Muslim chaplain, though for only three years, Mr. Settoul said. After World War II, the independence movement in France’s colonies, coupled with a general mistrust of Islam, put the efforts on hold.

The issue could no longer be ignored in the 1990s, as the end of mandatory military service was announced in 1996, and as the military began huge recruitment efforts in working-class areas. Children of Muslim immigrants from former French colonies became overrepresented, and now Muslims are believed to account for 15 to 20 percent of troops, or two to three times the Muslim share of the total French population.

Unequal treatment of Muslim cohorts fueled “a discourse of victimization in the ranks” and a recourse to identity politics, Mr. Settoul said. The lack of alternatives to meals with pork, which are forbidden in Islam, created “tensions and divides” and even led to fights, he said.

Catholic, Protestant and Jewish chaplains had formally served in the French military since the 1880s. But a century later, there were still no Muslim chaplains to cater to the needs of frontline soldiers, who often had to turn to Catholic chaplains.

1990 report commissioned by the Defense Ministry highlighted the risks of internal divisions unless the army gave equal treatment to its Muslim soldiers.

Despite what Mr. Settoul described as a lingering suspicion of Islam, the military incorporated Muslim chaplains in 2005 — around the same time that other parts of French society went the other way, banning the Muslim veil and other religious symbols in public schools. That began a process of integrating Muslims ahead of “the rest of society,” Mr. Settoul said.

In 2019, there were 36 active-duty imams, or about 17 percent of all chaplains. There were also 125 Catholic priests, 34 Protestant pastors and 14 rabbis.

The soldiers at Friday Prayer, ranging from their early 20s to their early 40s, were all children of immigrants. They grew up listening to their parents or grandparents talk of praying in makeshift premises before mosques were built in their cities. Some had mothers or other female relatives who still faced suspicion because they wore veils.

Sergeant Mohamed, 41, enlisted two decades ago, a couple of years before the first Muslim chaplains. He recalled how it had become easier to fully practice his religion in the army. While Muslim soldiers had been given large rooms to gather in and pray, they now had access to mosques.

In the army, Sgt. Mohamed said he could take a paid day off on Eid al-Fitr, the celebration marking the end of Ramadan.

“My father worked for 35 years, and every boss deducted eight hours of work,” he said, adding that his father, who immigrated from Algeria four decades ago, never imagined that his children would be able to practice their religion in the army. “In 40 years, there’s been amazing progress after all.”

Perhaps more than anything, the integration of Islam amounted to a recognition of his place in the army, Sgt. Mohamed said.

“The fuel of the soldier is recognition,” he said. “And when there is recognition of our faith, it’s as though you’re filling up our tanks.”

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/26/world/europe/in-frances-military-muslims-find-a-tolerance-that-is-elusive-elsewhere.html?action=click&module=In%20Other%20News&pgtype=Homepage

Who Gets to Wear a Headscarf? The Complicated History Behind France’s Latest Hijab Controversy

Of note:

The head of French President Emmanuel Macron’s political party withdrew support late last week for one of the party’s own candidates, Sarah Zemmahi, after she wore a headscarf in a campaign poster.

Stanislas Guerini, one of the co-founders of Macron’s centrist Republic on the Move party (LREM), took to Twitter to critique Zemmahi, an engineer who is running for her local council, for wearing her hijab, a religious head covering worn by some Muslim women, in a promotional image.

“Wearing ostentatious religious symbols on a campaign document is not compatible with the values of LREM,” Guerini wrote, after a prominent far-right politician shared the photo. “Either these candidates change their photo, or LREM will withdraw its support.”

While Zemmahi has not yet responded to Guerini’s statements, he received pushback from others in the party. LREM lawmaker Naima Moutchou defended Zemmahi on Twitter, calling Guerini’s criticism “discrimination,” while fellow LREM politician Caroline Janvier called out Guerini’s response in a scathing tweet.

“Undignified. Running after (far-right) votes will only allow their ideas to prevail. Enough is enough,” she wrote.

The conflict over one woman’s choice to cover her head comes in the wake of controversy surrounding an amendment passed by the French Senate last month that would ban girls under 18 from wearing the hijab in public. As part of a proposed “anti-separatism” bill, it was presented alongside amendments that would also prevent mothers from wearing hijabs on their children’s school trips and would ban the “burkini,” a full-body swimsuit.

While some French politicians have defended the amendment as a reinforcement of the country’s adherence to secularism, others have slammed it as yet another instance of part of an ugly strain of Islamophobia in the nation, which is home to the largest Muslim population in Western Europe—a population that has experienced increased discrimination in recent years, in the wake of terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists in recent years and the rise of far-right politics. One 2019 report found that 44.6% of the country considered Muslims a threat to French national identity, while a government survey from the same year listed that 42% of Muslims (other studies put the figure at 58%) reported experiencing discrimination due to their religion, a number that increased to 60% for women who wore a headscarf.

But understanding why the hijab is the site of so much controversy in France also requires understanding the deep history behind the debate.

While the proposed legislation still needs to be approved by the lower house of French Parliament before it can become a law, it’s already drawn significant backlash from many Muslim women around the world, who see the law as not only xenophobic and discriminatory, but an attack on their agency—a sentiment that has grown over the years as French politicians have argued that laws restricting religious symbolism are in service of women’s empowerment and public safety.On social media, the hashtag #HandsOffMyHijab has become a rallying cry to protest the amendment, started by Somali-Norwegian model Rawdah Mohamed, who used the phrase in a now-viral Instagram post to call out the potential ban. It’s since garnered support from the likes of U.S. congresswoman Ilhan Omar and Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad.

“How can you have a discussion about my identity, and not include me?” Mohamed told TIME. “I don’t think politicians are the ones who are supposed to define what it means to be a Muslim woman.”

France’s history with headscarves

Scholars trace France’s focus on Muslim head coverings and the women who wear them back to the country’s imperial past in North Africa and the Middle East—particularly in Algeria.

“Banning the hijab is about colonialism,” Alia Al-Saji, an associate professor of philosophy at McGill University, tells TIME. “French colonization of Muslim countries was often about controlling and managing populations that were of diverse religions… The hijab is a way of clearly showing that you are Muslim, which is colonially constructed as being opposed to colonialism. But it’s also a site of potential resistance.”

French colonization in Algeria began with an invasion in 1830 and was characterized by violent genocide, settler colonialism and a series of shifting laws called the “indigénat,” which, among other things, determined who could be a French citizen. Al-Saji notes that these laws were influential in emphasizing difference for the Muslim majority in Algeria; for example, while Jewish Algerian natives were recognized as French citizens in 1870 with the Cremieux Decree, Muslim Algerian natives were not eligible for French citizenship unless they renounced their religion and culture and adopted a French identity.

Inherent in the colonial attitude is the belief that one’s “civilization”—its language, its values and its practices—is an improvement on the lives of those who are colonized. This belief manifested itself drastically in the attitude toward Algerian Muslim women, who were seen as both oppressed and exotic. Under this mindset, their “liberation” could become the moral justification for imperialism’s violent casualties.

This dynamic is perhaps best illustrated during the Algerian War of Independence, when a series of public unveiling ceremonies were organized in 1958. During these ceremonies, many of which were arranged by the French army, Algerian women removed their haiks (traditional wraps worn by North African women) or had them removed by European women, before throwing them to the ground or burning them. Often, speeches were given afterwards in support of the French and the emancipation of Muslim women.

While these highly-publicized ceremonies were framed as spaces of empowerment for Muslim women, other accounts of this history tell a different story. In his book, Burning the Veil: The Algerian War and the ‘Emancipation’ of Muslim Women, 1954-1962, Neil MacMaster notes that some of the women who took part in these ceremonies were very poor, recruited from high schools or, in some cases, pressured to participate with threats to their safety and that of their families. In one harrowing case, when the army could not find a Muslim woman to lead the ceremony, they enlisted Monique Améziane, a young woman from a wealthy and pro-French family who had not previously worn a veil or heik, to speak—in exchange for sparing the life of her brother, whom they had already arrested and tortured.

The symbolic power of the veil during this time, however, was not only recognized by the French, but also by those fighting for Algerian liberation. In his essay Algeria Unveiled, Frantz Fanon makes the case that the veil can be a tool of anti-colonial resistance and a way of limiting access to oppressors, going so far as to call it a “bone of contention in a grandiose battle.”

During the war, the veil also became a literal tool of resistance. Some female freedom fighters for the National Liberation Front used haiks to conceal weapons and classified information; after this tactic was discovered, they used unveiling to their advantage, adopting European dress as a way to fly under the radar of the French.

How the veil has been reclaimed—and weaponized

Within France, at the intersection of gender, ethnic and religious identities, the Muslim veil or head covering took on new significance in the 20th century. Because of the popularity of orientalist art during this time, the veil already had stereotypes of the foreign and forbidden. But veiling was no longer just a physical marker of religious or cultural difference—it was also seen as an affront to assimilation, a visible symbol of resistance to colonization.

This meaning was intensified by the state’s staunch espousal of a unified French cultural and social identity, in opposition to multiculturalism. This belief can be traced all the way back to the French Revolution, which has also been credited with planting the seeds for laïcité, France’s principle of secularism. Although laïcitéoriginated in a 1905 law about the separation of church and state, it has been used in recent years as the driving force behind the anti-hijab policies.

In 2004, Muslim headscarves were among the array of religious symbols banned from being worn in French public schools. And in 2010, the country prohibited full-face veils like niqabs in public spaces like streets, parks and public transportation, becoming the first European country to enforce a nation-wide ban and even launching a government campaign that proudly stated, “the Republic is lived with an uncovered face.”

This sentiment took on a new irony at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 when France mandated mask-wearing in public spaces, while still banning Muslim face coverings.

“Muslim women who wear the hijab have always been on the receiving end of Islamophobia for their visible identity,” Nazma Khan, the founder of World Hijab Day, told TIME. “Simply put, the proposed hijab ban is a systematic vilification and discrimination against Muslim women in hijab.”

The Collective against Islamophobia in France, a non-profit that was forced by the French government to dissolve in 2020 in a move that Human Rights Watch called a “threat to basic human rights and liberties,” reported in 2019 that 70% of Islamophobic hate speech and acts in France were directed at women.

To advocates, the intense focus on a physical marker of otherness, along with the rhetoric touting women’s empowerment, can distract from what’s really at stake: what they see as France’s attempt to control citizens, as territorial residents were controlled in the past.

“If it was about giving Muslim women more agency, then in that case, you could let them or let all women wear whatever they wanted,” says Al-Saji. “But It’s actually about controlling what women wear and how they appear and what gets seen and that their bodies are seen, this kind of colonial male desire, that constructs Muslim women as trapped and pawns of their culture and needing to be unveiled.”

Source: Who Gets to Wear a Headscarf? The Complicated History Behind France’s Latest Hijab Controversy

Paris court tries anti-racism activist for statue attack

Of note. All societies and cultures have to face their histories, but in a manner that educates and improves understanding of their context and not simply dismisses historical figures without considering the times and their other contributions, good and bad:

A French activist for Black rights went on trial in Paris on Monday for defacing a statue of a historical figure from France’s colonial, slave-trading past, calling the protest a political act to denounce deep-seated racism.

Franco Lollia was on trial for spraying “state Negrophobia” in red paint on the pedestal of a statue outside parliament in Paris last June. The statue Jean-Baptiste Colbert, a 17th-century royal minister who wrote rules governing slaves in France’s overseas colonies.

Lollia told the court that, in his view, Colbert committed crimes against humanity. He said celebrating Colbert with a statue outside the National Assembly shows that the French state “is viscerally Negrophobic even today” and that the statue’s presence is “spitting in the face of all people who look like me.”

Lollia, who is Black, called the trial “an insult.”

“I am sad to see that history seems to be repeating itself and our voices are still not heard,” he said. “I am really disappointed that the justice system is still so blind.”

The trial coincided with France’s annual commemoration of the abolition of slavery. Lollia noted that the day isn’t marked with a national holiday, dismissing it as “a bone for a dog” that fails to adequately commemorate the horrors inflicted on millions of slaves.

The sweat-top and face mask that Lollia wore to the trial both had the words “Anti-Negrophobia Brigade” printed on them. Other words on the back of his T-shirt said “Negrophobia” is a “weapon of mass destruction that doesn’t admit its name” and exhorted: “Let’s arm ourselves to the hilt to fight it.”

The judge said video footage of the graffiti attack showed him hurling paint at the statue and spray-painting its base.

“It was a political act,” Lollia said.

The charge of defacing property is punishable by a fine or community service.

Lollia’s team argued that he acted in self-. His attorney Georges-Emmanuel Germany said the judge should consider France’s past as “a criminal state” in weighing Lollia’s act.

“You are not only the judge of the accused,” the attorney said. “You are also the judge of the of the victim” — meaning the French state.

Speaking outside the courtroom, Lollia said France’s colonial past is still feeding racial discrimination.

“Colbert is a major figure of this colonial past, this past where Black people were not recognized as human beings,” he said.

“The system itself is Negrophobic from the moment it doesn’t put into question the history,” he said. “France is capable of healing from its Negrophobia and from its state racism in general, but the French state must learn to face its history, and not only part of the history it likes.”

Source: Paris court tries anti-racism activist for statue attack