June 18, 2019 | 65° F

SAAD: Hollande's views on hijab mirror ideas of Islamophobia

Opinions Column: My V is for Victory

The concept of “laïcité”, or secularism, was wrought by France’s desperate need to escape the tyrannical grasp on its government and doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. This separation of church and state was implemented in 1905 in order to validate France as an individualistic power, rather than a mere marionette of Catholicism. Fast forward a century and some change later and we see France’s emphasis on secularism transpired into an image of a police officer forcing a Muslim woman out of her burkini on a Nice beach to be exposed to the public. It is not only the non-French who are lost in translation with this butchered demonstration of “liberté, égalité, fraternité.”

Although France’s decree of“laïcité” had been put into play at the beginning of the 20th century, its first act of extremity against Muslim garb was in 1989 with “l’affaire du foulard.” This incident, where three Muslim students were suspended for wearing headscarves in school, sparked the conversation for what the“laïcité” really entailed. But why then? Why did it take almost a century for the conversation to start? The truth of the matter is that France’s preference of attending to Muslim women’s attire does not exemplify its dedication to creating an equal republic, but rather a response to its growing fears after acts of terrorism.

In the same year as “l’affaire du foulard,” Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the supreme leader of Iran, issued a “fatwa” or a killing of Salman Rushdie who had published "The Satanic Verses." The bombings and killings that emerged were enough to confront France with a new potential enemy. It was no longer the Roman Catholic Church that bore a threat to France’s identity, but the possibility of its citizens ostentatiously declaring their allegiance to a religion that “promoted” terrorism. France’s new rival was the hijab.

Although the burkini ban was lifted many months ago on Aug. 26, 2016, the truths that arose in its people’s protests against the suspension were not suggestive of a promising relationship between France and its 7 million Muslims. The mere suspension of the ban did not eradicate the discrimination that Muslims in France face.

Even as debates broke out and national tensions rose as time progressed, the recent comments by France’s president, François Hollande, about Muslim women is disturbing evidence that nothing has been settled. Hollande stated that if they were given the choice, Muslim women would not wear hijabs, rather that they would “prefer freedom to enslavement.”

Being a young Muslim woman minoring in French, with the chronic, aching dream of traveling to France, I find myself in a most frustrating position. Having spent the last five years of my life learning the language, practicing the etiquettes and exploring the palette of France — I have a feeling that faintly resembles bragging about a boyfriend only to discover he’s been cheating on me. How does a nation so rich in culture, dignity and beauty derail itself out of fear? The excuses the government has provided to justify its actions are ridiculously transparent and flawed. Where they defend their misdemeanors by claiming them to protect the nation and create impartiality, they are, in reality, generating an atmosphere of hostility.

The Islamic terrorists, with whom their actual quarrel is, feed off of the angers of the wronged Muslim citizens. What once was seen as senseless killing, is now revenge for mistreatment in their eyes. Thus, France’s claim of neutralizing a situation is in fact, false.

Others have asserted that their qualms with hijabs and burqas are pertaining to feminism and their stand against oppression. The problem with this is that the idea of oppression in Western society is altered. In fact, the notion of their own definition of oppression is so concrete in their minds that they go so far as to assume that ridding Muslim women of their religious coverings is somehow “liberating” them. What society, as well as President Hollande, fail to realize is that telling a woman what not to wear is just as detrimental as telling her what to wear. A woman’s choice to wear a hijab is emotionally and spiritually private. It is her declaration of modesty and faithfulness to Islam. When you take away her connection to her spirituality, you are the one oppressing her, not the cloth she uses to cover her hair.

But the government of France does not see this. Instead they translate the image of a woman in a hijab to an illustration of deviance from the French identity. And rather than embrace the uniqueness of its citizens, France chooses to stifle their individual liberties in a meager attempt to douse its own fears. In turn, the true enemy to the stability of the republic ends up being the republic itself. And that, President Hollande, you can’t blame on hijabs.

Syeda Khaula Saad is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in English and journalism and media studies with a minor in French. Her column, “My V is for Victory” runs on alternate Tuesdays.

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Syeda Khaula Saad

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