Ayesha Malhi, France
“What happens when you normalise anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim hate speech, bias, discrimination, and hate crimes – Islamophobia written into law.” (Olympic fencer, Ibtihaj Muhammad)
On 30 March, the French Senate voted in favour of the “prohibition in the public space of any conspicuous religious sign by minors and of any dress or clothing which would signify an inferiorisation of women over men.” In addition, hijab-wearing mothers would be prohibited from accompanying school field trips and burkinis would be banned at public swimming pools.
These laws, which are part of the proposed “Separatism Bill” aim to impose republican values, fight against “Islamic” radicalism and empower and dignify women in France.
To impose republican values
France’s republican history is primarily a political construct of a community of citizens who are equal regardless of their social, ethnic, religious or other backgrounds. The Republic is not only indivisible but secular, democratic and social. “Social” refers to equality, “democratic” to Liberty and “Secular” to fraternity. (www.france-republicaine.fr/french-republic.php)
It is often a distorted interpretation of “fraternity” brotherhood that leads to discriminatory laws. “We are one” seem like words of a French politician. However, these were uttered by the prime minister of New Zealand last year after the Christchurch mosque attack. The steps New Zealand has taken after the attack shows the real promotion of fraternity.
On 15 March, during the anniversary of the attack, Christchurch city took it as an opportunity “to demonstrate that we as a city are proud and supportive of our diversity, and warmly embrace all faiths, religions and cultures. Exhibitions, mosque open days etc. were held. The idea is that by sharing stories, ideas, and talking with different members of the community we can take a step in other people’s shoes to understand their lives better and promote further integration.” (Our Wellington website, https://bit.ly/3t1essW)
This is being united. France needs to take steps in this direction. Education, integration, acceptance is the key to strengthening respect for the principles of the Republic.
The vague “radical Islam” phrase
In its statement, setting out the justification for the bill to strengthen respect for the principles of the Republic, the government mentions the need to strengthen a legal arsenal that is insufficient to tackle “radical Islam”. The government focuses on “radical Islam”, arguing in the explanatory statement that:
“An insidious but powerful communitarian entryism is slowly eroding the foundations of our society in certain regions. This entryism is essentially of Islamist inspiration. It is the manifestation of a conscious, theorised, politico-religious political project, which aims to see religious norms prevail over the common law that we have freely given ourselves. It is unleashing a separatist dynamic that aims at division […] In the face of radical Islam, in the face of all forms of separatism, it is clear that our legal arsenal is insufficient. We must face up to reality: The Republic is not sufficiently equipped to take action against those who want to destabilise it.” (www.assemblee-nationale.fr/dyn/15/textes/l15b3649_projet-loi)
The government fails to define the notions of “separatism” or “radical Islam”, or to provide information or data to justify its specific and exclusive focus on those phenomena. Amnesty International is concerned that these vague notions risk reinforcing pre-existing negative and harmful stereotypes that conflate Muslims and terrorism. This raises the fear of discriminatory implementation of the bill once it is adopted, which could have a particularly negative impact on Muslim individuals and associations. (www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/EUR2139122021ENGLISH.pdf)
Obedience to the law of the land is a religious duty in Islam
The truth is, the Holy Quran commands Muslims to remain faithful to not only Allah and the Prophet Muhammadsa, but also to the authority they live under:
“O ye who believe! obey Allah, and obey [His] Messenger and those who are in authority among you.” (Surah al-Nisa, Ch.4: V.60)
The present head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmadaa, elaborated on this verse:
“A true Muslim can never raise his voice in hatred against his fellow citizens, nor for that matter against the ruling authority or government of the time. It is the responsibility of a true Muslim that he should remain loyal and fully abide by the laws of the land of which he is a subject.” (Baitul Futuh Inauguration Reception, 11 October 2003)
So, you see, Islam is not a threat; the problem are the few bad people whose hearts are distorted and who wrongly interpret verses of the Holy Quran and associate self-concocted, imprudent beliefs to Islam. But these are a minority and not the majority.
Today, if any extremist group or government or individual are acting against the true principles of peace in the name of Islam, then they are doing so only to fulfil their own personal or political interests. If a person does not follow a particular teaching properly whilst claiming to subscribe to it, then it is he who is in error, not the teachings.
If politicians in France aspire to fight radicalism, then they need to address the root of the problem. Research shows (www.counterextremism.com/threat/isis) that extremists radicalise the vulnerable; their targets are:
People who are rejected by their peers, faith or social groups
Victims or witnesses of faith or religious hatred
People having conflict with their families over religious believes
Underachievers, suffering from poverty or social exclusion
Witnesses of traumatic global, national or personal experiences
Steps need to be taken to address issues that make people vulnerable in the first place; religious hatred, conflict, poverty, social exclusion etc. The Separatism Bill of France will only deepen these issues even further.
To empower and dignify women
The Separatism Bill hails to “empower” and “dignify” Muslim women by stripping away their hijab that “shows inferiorisation of women over men”.
So much negativity and hate against a piece of clothing is being embedded in the minds of people. Hijab and oppression are being made synonymous. Laws are being made without taking into consideration the rights and opinions of whom they affect.
The fact is that Islam gave women rights that were unparalleled in the history of women; the right to an education, property rights, the right of inheritance and freedom of marriage and divorce. Similar rights were not afforded to women in Europe for many centuries after the advent of Islam. And where it comes to dressing, Allah instructed the men first to lower their gazes and then guided women towards modesty. (Surah al-Nur, Ch.24: V.31, 32)
Islam empowers women, while these laws are stripping Muslims’ rights away.
Nevertheless, it is also a fact that there are women who are oppressed. If the aim is to truly help these women, then alternative steps need to be taken. The issue is not the piece of clothing or the philosophy behind it; instead, it is the man who thinks he can command how to dress or undress a woman. It is this undressing that has enabled “France’s epidemic of misogynist crime”. (https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/02/24/france-is-in-denial-about-domestic-violence/)
Islam does not oppress women, not in the least. On the contrary, in modern society, including France, women have been degraded into a mere instrument of sexual indulgence. Society has taught them from early childhood that their physical looks are their main asset. If this is not inferiorisation, then what is?
If France wishes to hail liberty, equality and fraternity, it needs to step away from double standards and oppression. Taking away rights of basic freedoms and ignoring deeper issues that French citizens face, will not bring about peace in society, nor will it create a free society.
“This stigmatisation must end”, as Amnesty International noted:
“Time and again we have seen the French authorities use the vague and ill-defined concept of ‘radicalisation’ or ‘radical Islam’ to justify the imposition of measures without valid grounds, which risks leading to discrimination in its application against Muslims and other minority groups. This stigmatisation must end” (www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/03/france-republican-values-law-risks-discrimination/)