I’ve always been on the fence about this ban and I know I’m not the only one. I personally know French Muslims who agree with the ban. I’m of the opinion that imposing a dress code is wrong, but the issue in itself is much more complicated. It’s much wider than a sheer “feminist” issue or an islamophobic one. Unfortunately, some non-French Western feminists use the niqab ban in France in order to ask for a similar law in the country they live in (for example, Mona Eltahawy) and non-French Western Muslims love (for whatever obscure reason) complaining about the ban and appropriate this issue (on very unethical grounds if I can be honest); and both sides dismiss much of the issue and never tackle the real issue at hand which goes deeper.
First, one has to understand how French institutions work and the conflicting history this country has had with religion in order to get how important secularism (laïcité in French) is very important in the public sphere. France is the country where, several years ago, a controversy aroused around Sarkozy just because he made the sign of the cross in public. That’s why I always ask non-French people not to downplay the part secularism had in this ban. There is a reason why from the left to the right, most politicians supported such a law and I’m pretty sure that’s not because they all hate Muslims and/or Arabs. French people are very proud of their secular roots and the culture is such that face-to-face interaction is encouraged.
The government’s reasoning was definitely racist and islamophobic. Everytime they wanted to divert people from urgent issues, they always found a way to point a finger at the Muslim community. Even now that the right-wing party (the UMP) isn’t ruling in the government, its members always manage to speak about the Muslim community - which is very pathetic from their part. I believe what they did and how they handled the debates around this ban was very irresponsible, it created useless conflicts and somehow, it has also marginalized us even more.
There are problems within the (mostly African) Muslim community but no one seems to take the responsibility to deal with them with maturity and rationally. I believe the niqab ban was also a diversion in order not to deal with the real issues North-African Muslims are facing here. As a North-African Muslim, I seriously face no issue related to Islam here, I practice it the way I want to and I am left alone. The issues most North-Africans face here are related to inequality - many live in the banlieue (ie. suburbs but not in the American sense. It’s quite negative here) where there is hardly any social and racial diversity most of the time, we face more difficulties in school than “native” French people, we face more unemployment and also discrimination. Poverty in France has become more and more racialized throughout the years too. French society is not a multicultural one. But unfortunately, with all the economic issues we face, obviously assimilation hasn’t worked here so I wish there’d be honest and responsible debates around this - in order to improve the situation, not for some political agenda.
When it comes to the hijab in school or the niqab ban, I think one of the way to solve it would be to have a honest debate about to what extent religious visibility in public places can be acceptable in a secular system such as the French one.
But honestly, and imho, the niqab ban is a non-issue here. But not only some French politicians and medias made a mountain out of it, but non-French Western Muslims are always doing the same too. The latter do not even bother to learn about the basics of French institutions and French history, let alone the real issues we face - which is quite ironic because they always love claiming that one shouldn’t speak over them. As you can see, even as a French Muslim (and even though I acknowledge the fact that other French Muslims might think differently than me), I do not have a clear stance towards this issue because it is really complicated. So I do not understand how non-French Western Muslims can be so vocal about it when they clearly do not grasp much (if, at all) of what is at stake here.
I hope this answered your question. It might be a bit confusing, but I really want people to understand how deep this issue is. Thank you for messaging.