Home » France’s Newest Abaya Ban in Schools Ignites Fresh Debate on Islamophobia and Secularism

France’s Newest Abaya Ban in Schools Ignites Fresh Debate on Islamophobia and Secularism

by Dubaiforum

France’s Newest Abaya Ban in Schools Ignites Fresh Debate on Islamophobia and Secularism

PARIS — In a decision that is fanning the flames of an already heated debate surrounding Islamophobia, the French government announced a ban on schoolchildren wearing abayas starting from the upcoming academic term in September. This move marks the latest chapter in France’s increasingly complicated relationship with its Muslim community and items of Islamic dress.

French Education Minister Gabriel Attal unveiled the policy in a recent interview with French television network TF1. “Our schools are built upon strong values and principles, paramount among them being ‘laïcité’ or secularism,” Attal said. He defended the ban by highlighting the French principle of state secularism, which he believes should prevent the visual identification of a student’s religious background within the classroom setting.

The minister’s comments immediately drew criticism, both nationally and internationally. Danièle Obono, a leading opposition figure, took to social media platform X (formerly known as Twitter), decrying the ban as a “new Islamophobic campaign.” Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who secured third place in the 2022 French presidential election, also joined the chorus of critics. “It’s disheartening to see the return to school polarized by this entirely artificial religious war over women’s attire,” Mélenchon opined.

France’s latest ban follows a sequence of contentious policies aimed at regulating Islamic dress. The country has been embroiled in similar controversies in recent years, sparking outcry from Muslim nations and global human rights organizations. Just last year, French lawmakers supported an amendment to ban the hijab and other “conspicuous religious symbols” in sports competitions, citing athlete safety as the key rationale. This legislation was spearheaded by the right-wing Les Républicains party.

In 2018, the United Nations Human Rights Committee declared France’s earlier ban on the niqab — a full-face veil — a violation of human rights. Legal scholar and commentator Rim-Sarah Alouane warned against such escalating policies, stating, “These measures are in conflict with the foundational 1905 Law on the Separation of Church & State, a law we’ve been manipulating and exploiting since the 1990s.”

Alouane further cautioned that the recent abaya ban is only serving to deepen the societal divisions in France. “Such policies fuel the nation’s fractures,” she added.

When queried about whether the newly established guidelines would extend to the hijab, Minister Attal sidestepped the issue, choosing to focus on the abaya. “School leaders have expressed a need for clear national rules regarding the wearing of abayas. The rule is now here,” he stated.

As France grapples with the complexities of preserving secularism while honoring religious freedom, this latest policy decision is sure to keep the nation on the global stage, under scrutiny from both defenders and critics of its unique brand of laïcité.

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