French far-right National Front presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s cancellation of a meeting with after being informed to wear a headscarf for the encounter again brings into focus the debate over the hijab.
The symbolism of the incident will surely benefit Le Pen who goes into the first round of the French presidential polls nine weeks from now. France will head into the polls with issues such as terrorism, the Syrian refugee crisis, and immigration dominating the political agenda. And Le Pen’s nationalist, anti-EU, preserve-French-culture position is well known.
Hence, her refusal to wear the headscarf for the meeting with Lebanon’s grand mufti, though not surprising, will certainly excite her core right-wing voters.
That said, for the grand mufti to insist that Le Pen wear a headscarf headscarf was also ridiculous – she is neither Lebanese nor Muslim. And therein lies the problem with those supporting the wearing of hijab. I have said before in these blogs that the hijab isn’t offensive and people should be fine with women wearing the headscarf as long as they do so out of free choice. The hijab doesn’t cover a woman’s face like the burqa or the niqab, and hence doesn’t rob a woman of her identity. But if one takes away free choice and forces a woman to wear a hijab, then it is highly condemnable.
If conservative/traditional Muslims want people to accept women wearing hijab, then they should also respect a woman’s right to not wear the headscarf. You can’t have one without the other. The bottomline is that women should be free to individually decide what they are comfortable wearing or not wearing.
Again, this is also why I am against the French tirade against the burkini swimsuit. I will defend a woman’s right to wear a burkini as much as her right to wear a bikini.
In this context, I believe that the French have got it wrong with their ban on religious symbols such as the Islamic headscarf or the Sikh turban in schools and public offices. Instead of focussing on religious symbols per se, the French state should be focussed on upholding individual liberty in all its diversity. But Le Pen would argue the French assimilation model is something that the French people have chosen.
However, that also means the French people have to live with the consequences of their system – latent racism on the one hand and resentful migrants on the other.