The veil… thirty years… and after

Le voile… trente ans… et après

When, in 1989, three young girls from Aubervilliers appeared in high school with a veil that they refused to take off, the veil entered politics in France (1). The veil whatever it is, from the scarf to the burqini. Wherever you go, from school to university, from the street to work. Whatever the age, from young people to adults and children. Whatever the political orientation, from the far right to the far left.
Whatever the season, but in the pre-election period, the question can be useful to mask the stakes of the election and make you forget the essentials.

The issue was not fully resolved by the adoption of two laws in 2004 (2a) and 2010 (2b). It arises in many other countries, Europeans where the Muslim population is more or less recent or countries with traditionally Muslim population. It has even been raised at the level of international institutions.

What can we say about it?

Il n’est pas question de discuter de ce que dit ou ne dit pas le Coran, pas plus que les hadiths. D’éminents musulmans le font depuis des siècles et ne se sont pas mis d’accord. On ne peut que prendre acte de ce désaccord.

There is no question of discussing what the Koran says or does not say, any more than the hadiths. Prominent Muslims have done this for centuries and have not agreed. We can only take note of this disagreement.

And what follows from it, at least partially: not all Muslim women have the same dress practice in the world, not even within a country except perhaps in totalitarian Muslim countries.

Some wear veils of all kinds, covering the whole body from head to toe, hiding the face and even the eyes or only the hair (3). Others don’t wear them at all and their dress is just as varied.
This diversity in dress depends on everyone’s will, their possibilities, their social and political environment: fashion, custom, social environment, type of political power, national legislation, etc. (4).

The examples of European countries and countries with partially or totally Muslim populations (Annex 1) show that legislation and practice depend on the political situation and the will of governments, most often composed exclusively or mainly of men.

It also varies depending on the period: Turkey by Kemal Ataturk and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Tunisia by Bourguiba, Ben Ali and current Tunisia, Iran by Shah and Khomeini …
With, sometimes, a continuity as, among others, in Saudi Arabia where the absolute monarchy has long been allied with Wahhabism, very conservative.

With this important variety of practices, the veil, it should be said the veils, appears at least as much a political sign as a religious sign. Political-religious? Individual or collective?

In France

As in all European countries, society is strongly secularized. With in addition, laïcité which is part of its history.

French society today is, in an important way, the result of an age-old conflict between successive political institutions, royalty, empire, republic and the dominant religious institution, the Catholic church.

A compromise between republicans was imposed on the dominating Catholic Church, with the adoption of laïcité by the 1905 law of separation of the Churches (to take into account the other cults of the time, Protestants, Israelite) and the ‘State, ending a century of Concordat signed in 1801 with the Vatican, concordates then extended to the Reformed (1802) and Israelite (1808) cults. Alsace-Moselle, in 1905, under the authority of Germany, retained the status in 1919, despite its new attachment to France, after the end of the First World War.
We should add the specific situations of Guyana for Catholic worship, Mayotte for Islam …

The Catholic Church strongly opposed this law, including long after its adoption.

It didn’t solve everything. It could not take into account Islamic requests, for example, which did not exist at the time. It didn’t even solve all the problems with the Catholic Church. It was supplemented, adapted, defeated by multiple texts under the different republics, depending on the circumstances and the balance of power. In particular, with regard to the funding of private schools, which are overwhelmingly Catholic .. Several texts since 1945 have contravened the principle public funds for public schools, private funds for private schools. Last example, the Blanquer law, making compulsory the education of children from the age of 3 years, education already assured at 97-98%, obliges the communes to subsidize the Catholic schools receiving these young children (5).

The laws of 2004 and 2010 were adopted to answer questions that had not yet arisen. They shared public opinion with less violence, however, than in 1905 when we could speak of the war between the two France.

The 1905 compromise seems to be the consensus today, even of people who do not know its terms or who would oppose it if it was under discussion. Besides, some ask for a review. Refused by many for fear of relighting the fire.

Le voile… trente ans… et après

From a dress point of view, religious men and women can wear the habit of their choice. The clothes of the priests, like the cassock, and especially the headdresses of the nuns did not go unnoticed. And the law found nothing to complain about. On the contrary, the courts have opposed, in the name of laïcité, those who wanted to ban them on the street. If, today, religious men and women are most often wearing civilian or discreet clothes, this is due to their evolution parallel to that of society. And, probably, the will of religious to drown in the crowd.

It is the result of a general secularization of society that affects most western countries.

Likewise, laïcité or the law have nothing to do with the disappearance of our grandmothers’ kerchief or even with the possibility for women to enter churches without covering their hair.
Traditional clothing for Muslim men like the scarf of Muslim women was no problem. The abandonment of the traditional veils of the country, some of which hid their faces, and the adoption of the scarf or Islamic scarf reflected an adaptation to the society in which these women lived. As the former bishop of Hypponia said, “If you are in Rome, live like the Romans; if you are elsewhere, live as one lives there.  »

The question was raised by the desire of some young girls not to come veiled at school, which does not seem to have posed a problem, but to refuse to withdraw it when entering school: the school issue and symbol of the historic battle for a secular state in the grip of the Catholic Church.

The next episode was the desire to wear the full veil in the street, which was absent and which is still often the case, sometimes even prohibited as in Algeria, in the country of origin of immigrant women and their daughters. integral, mainly worn by women in countries that are not very democratic and rarely on the cutting edge for gender equality. And here, more often it seems, by converts.

Then came the burqini … which should not be a problem, the beach being open to everyone in the outfit of their choice, excluding the total nudity reserved for places specially equipped for this purpose. If it does not hide the face, it cannot be prohibited: by order of August 26, 2016, the Council of State invalidated a municipal order prohibiting it on the beaches.

The question is different in swimming pools. The burqini cannot be prohibited as clothing. It can be as a swimsuit for hygienic reasons under internal regulations which prohibit all loose clothing like boardshort, bermuda …
Other reasons have been cited in various countries to ban veils on the street, especially those that hide the face.

The question of the veil of mothers accompanying children on school outings is more complex: laïcité has been invoked insofar as these mothers contribute to the supervision. The personnel supervising the children is required to dress neutrally, this neutrality may be required for any person who fulfills this function. A legal argument could be invoked: the accompanying person, volunteer, is covered by insurrances for the children whom he accompanies and for himself, by the administration in the event of an accident. Almost agent of the administration, she must respect their status. This is not the case, if it is not covered …
The Council of State ruled in 2013: as occasional collaborators, those accompanying are not subject to the religious neutrality imposed on teachers. Will we ever need the Council of State to define casual collaborator?
Of course, this does not affect the many nannies, sometimes undocumented, who babysit in a private setting.

Le voile… trente ans… et après

The veil in society.

The conflict over the veil is at the crossroads of several developments in society.

A tendency to liberate bodies, greater tolerance or use of women’s nudity. Questionable and contested by feminists but which sprawls in the street, advertising, on television, in the cinema, and which has existed since … in painting or sculpture …

A slow, difficult but continuous move towards equality and the veil can be seen as a sign of the accepted inferiority of women. The feminist movement shared on the issue.

The gradual erasure of the religious visibility of Catholics in the street and the search for greater visibility of Islam Conflict between secularization of society and counter-secularization of an Islam that did not live, like Protestantism or Judaism, this evolution which has not known conflicts and the relative appeasement of society by laïcité.

Of an Islam which is no longer that of immigrants in France called first or second generation. But in significant numbers the Islam of immigrants of France. Many of whom are French. From the colonial past. In a France where the rejection of a peaceful decolonization has led to the Algerian war which, more than half a century after the cease-fire, is not over (6).

Where the amnesty settled the legal question but not the decolonization of the minds like the truth and reconciliation campaign in South Africa and in other countries could do it at least partially …
Many have not accepted independence. They see in anyone apparently of North African origin, an Algerian, a Muslim, an invader, a potential terrorist … Unfortunately, they are not the only ones …
These French Muslims want to live in France, their country. Politicians have hardly heard them, have used them or ignored them, in short, the country does not meet their aspirations concerning equality, theoretical and above all practical.

They have been maintained in conditions denounced for too long, confinement in neighborhoods, stigmatized, without integration into official political representation. Continuing to be exposed to racism in everyday life but also, more seriously, in the search for a job, for accommodation, subject to facies controls, victims of police acts still going unpunished.

What is surprising for the people excluded in the return to the origins, in a return to the religious and for the Muslims, towards political Islam and an imaginary coming from the Near East, from Palestine.… Or towards those who recall that they are them, their parents, their grandparents, assigned to urban residence and identity, the continued victims of a system whose roots plunge into the colonial past, a racism that persists and a society that does not want or cannot change. And an imagination that more than British multicultural society comes from the cultural and media influence of the United States …

Le voile… trente ans… et après
Le voile… trente ans… et après

The freedom of veiled women

The veil can be interpreted in many ways. But it is everything, except traditional.
Our grandmothers’ scarf has disappeared and those who wear it today do not want to revive this tradition. It is not a persistence of the veil of parents or grandparents in the country of origin.

It is used mainly by young women to assert a political and / or religious otherness, a freedom which they consider to be prevented but which is recognized by society, within the limits of the laws: no veil in school, no veil hiding the face in public space. An otherness-challenge claimed in response to an otherness-exclusion which they feel as a confinement.
For some, it is an affirmation of personal freedom when it is perceived by many as a religious sign and / or subjugation. Those who wear it voluntarily, refuse that others want to release them, speak on their behalf. But in whose name are they speaking? Not of those who wear it by constraint. Immediate, family or indirect by pressure from those around them … They can’t go on TV to say. Those who speak cannot speak for them.

This is an incomplete paradox. They speak as (veiled women) so that they are not treated only as (veiled women) … but cannot speak on behalf of all veiled women.

And what about the freedom of young girls from 4, 5 or 6 years old? When will they be free to choose? At the cost of what ruptures?

After the veil at school, legally regulated by the law of 2004, appears the question of the full veil. Here again, it is difficult to speak for a few as representative of all the others … Their word hides the muteness of those who cannot be unveiled literally and figuratively.

The wearers of the Islamic headscarf can invoke beyond the religious obligation, a cultural or political or symbolic assertion of claim of freedom according to the interlocutors. Is this the case for the burqini?
For the liberators, these women use it to free themselves from patriarchy and enjoy the beach !!!

The law guarantees the freedom to wear or not to wear the veil, to do Ramadan or not. In reality, this is not always the case. Women, young and old, can be bothered in town because of their veils. Others are if they go out without a veil in certain neighborhoods. Like people, men or women, who appear Muslim, can be annoyed because they eat in public during Ramadan.
Inversion of facies hunting? Not institutional… The law is for freedom. The facts remain…

The use of « laïcité« 

LaÏcité can be used for or against the wearing of the veil, for or against the ban, with the front reversed, even unduly in both cases. The anti-laïcité right of always, the whole right is not anti-laïcité of always, has seized the laïcité more or less abandoned for years by many people, too confident in their certainties …
These new champions try to hide their anti-Arab racism there, even if many victims are not Arab, their hatred of Islam behind the fight against Islamism even when they attack simple believers or women who think, by this practice, to claim a place which is denied them.

Conversely, a certain left, instead of sticking to respect for laïcité and the law, invoke them or attack them to support certain behaviors with the hope of seducing populations, moreover, victims of class contempt: yesterday, Billancourt should not be despaired, today racialized classes should not be despaired by defending religious and political behavior which is not a class phenomenon, neither in France nor in the world. Who is promoted and supported by forces from here or the Middle East, who are not in favor of a popular, proletarian revolution.

Combining the veil, Islamophobia, racism is a serious political mistake. It is the same speech as the far right, as schematic. To call Islamophobic and racist anyone who is against this or that form of veil, in this or that circumstance, to racist anyone who criticizes Islam, rightly or wrongly, is playing the game of far right.
What should people from the Maghreb who are against Islam do? Are they racist? What about Muslims who are against the veil? It is still the majority of women of North African origin who do not wear the veil, do not want to wear it or are against it? Are they Islamophobic? Are they racist? Should we reject them? Should they be in solidarity with people whose ideas and behavior they are fighting against?

It’s putting everyone in one box, not chosen! Women without veils say: we do not reject religion as such but its archaic, restrictive customs, we want to promote equality between men and women. Do they have the right to assert themselves?

Mirrored, for the far right, anyone who is for the veil whatever it is, whatever the circumstances, anyone who is Muslim or even supposedly Muslim is Islamist. It is to assign these people to opinions which they overwhelmingly condemn.

In either case, this is not a way to move forward. It is to help the formation of antagonistic blocks, to prevent dialogue, to live together. But for some, isn’t that the goal?

In either case, it is not a question of laïcité even if some, on both sides, claim it. But, consciously or not, of clash of civilizations.

For elected leftists and some on the right, who are neither Islamo-leftists nor racists, supporting these clothing practices is a supposed way of ensuring social peace. Possibly, to collect some voices but perhaps they lose those of people who, although of the same cultural origin, refuse this practice.

There was a time, it may still be the case, where, hoping to obtain social peace, companies tolerated or favored prayer rooms at the workplace, which did not exist in the countries of origin. But there were also no strong unions considered dangerous … Where others who rebelled against working conditions, were accused of being contracted out by the Shiites …

In any case, the idea of social integration, of social struggle not to say class struggle was abandoned…

Islamists use the veil, in all its forms, to show their strength, to extend their influence. Particularly with the Muslim Brothers, with the coming of Khomeini to power in Iran, with monetary aid from Qatar and Saudi Arabia. But not all veils have the same meaning and not all women wearing veils are Islamists, even hidden. And there are not only shades of color between those who wear the scarf or the veil.
Social peace is always a compromise. It cannot be obtained without the participation of the greatest number.

The majority can impose a law. More difficult to change behavior. It cannot convince. It can be useful at some point. A Minister of Interior who was not a tender – are there any tender? – said that the police were obliged to intervene when, somewhere, a minister had not done his job. The law can prohibit, prevent, punish certain acts. It is more difficult to change mentalities if the situation which provoked these acts does not change.

Le voile… trente ans… et après

And after, beyond the veil …

In the assertion that there is no anti-white racism. Part of the left makes the same mistake. It’s right when they talk about systemic racism, institutional racism, facies control, housing, hiring … which is white racism. Very important. It adds to and strengthens popular racism, reinforced by colonial racism. We must combat all these forms of racism.

But to tell those who live in certain neighborhoods that there is no anti-white racism is to deny their experience, to reject them instead of listening to them. They feel this daily racism… denied by those who claim to fight against racism. They feel doubly assaulted. This can only make them racist or strengthen their beliefs if they already are. It is inviting them to join the only ones who recognize their situation and make it the main subject of speech.
Here too, we must listen to those who suffer and not condemn a priori.

The place of Islam in society is posed through various questions, sometimes conflicting, which must be resolved by a dialogue, even a vigorous one. Without denying or seeking to poison things but rather to find a compromise.

Some questions are already on the calendar.

As the appearance of Muslim lists probably more numerous and more publicized for the next municipal elections, the demonstrations in the public square, the construction of mosques, the menus of the canteens …

In France, unlike the situation in neighboring countries, there is no major religious political party like the Christian Democrat party even if parties or people claim to follow this current of thought. Laïcité and the laws of the Republic do not prohibit the existence of religious, Catholic or Christian Democrat or … Muslim parties. Or lists, partially, totally or mainly, of Muslim candidates. These lists reflect, at the same time, a form of integration: participating in elections. And a form of marginalization felt: not satisfactory representation, on the lists in competition, of a current of thought.

Protests will likely arise against these lists which will be described, as in the past, of communitary list. Do we call Christian Democratic parties community-based? A possible controversy will arise over their right to exist. On their political significance.

These lists raise the question of what demand, what dissatisfaction they express, how and to what extent it is possible and necessary to respond to it. Possibly find points of agreement with these requests.

Among others, the insufficient number of places of prayer and the necessary construction of mosques, their funding, the height of the minarets more or less resolved by town planning regulations, the calls to prayer with the precedent of church bells ( implementing decree of March 16, 1906 of the law of 1905)…

On Friday, it happens that, for lack of space in the mosque, there are street prayers, worshipers in public space. To be otherwise, it would be preferable if the mosques were sufficient in number and places to properly accommodate believers.

Demonstrating in public space is a right. Whether the motif is festive, sporty, commercial, charitable or cultural. There is no special feature for religious events. No need to request authorization. Any event must be declared to the mayor or the prefect, with the object, the place, the route. So that the police can organize: traffic, overflows, risks of confrontation …

A demonstration may be prohibited for risk of public disorder. Particular conditions can modulate how to do on the public highway in conformity with the local uses like processions.

The recent demonstration against racism and Islamophobia (7) gave rise to comments. It was not religious but political. During the course , some organizers saw fit to shout Allah Akbar, the basic phrase of prayer for all Muslims. Rarely heard in the public square by non-Muslims who know Allah Akbar by the perpetrators of attacks on the public highway at the time of their action. There is no doubt that it is a banal call for Muslim believers, not for the mass of other believers or non-believers.

This is not, strictly speaking, a call for solidarity with the victims of racism and Islamophobia. Unconsciousness or provocation? In any case, this pushes towards the strengthening of oppositions, situations of confrontation. Was it the goal?

The question of nativity scenes in public places does not concern Islam but clearly shows the ambiguity, the compromise of laîcité: free thinking opposed the presence of a nativity scenes in a town hall, a public place directly under the control of the State, because it infringes the principle of neutrality.

The nativity scene is a religious but also a cultural symbol which some believe is an integral part of the identity of the nation, as well as other traditions of folklore such as carnival …

The courts of appeal in Nantes and Paris did not judge in the same way. In the Council of State, for the public rapporteur, the principle of neutrality does not prohibit the installation of nativity scene on the public domain, except when a religious intention presides over this installation. A crèche can only be authorized in a town hall if it is temporary, is not accompanied by religious proselytism, has a cultural or festive character, linked to the Christmas event in Western tradition.

The fact remains that this demonstrates that French laïcité is Catholic or Christian laïcité. Even if the Christmas celebration is less and less perceived as a religious celebration and more as a celebration of family, children and especially trade!

There has already been a quarrel over France’s Christian roots that some want to exclude and others want to deny. It is obvious that France has Christian and even Catholic cultural roots. It is enough to see the number of municipalities which are called Saint … the number of churches historic monuments, works of art or holidays … without many being offended as a result precisely of the habit and secularization. To deny it is nonsense. But France’s cultural roots are also, and perhaps as much, anti-Catholic, the fight for laïcité is an example, and French literary history.

Public holidays: The Labor Code establishes that public holidays, paid and non-recoverable, cannot exceed the number of fourteen, and, despite the decrease in festivities related to religion and secularization, festivals of religious origin predominate .
In mainland France, first on Sundays and then, 11 public holidays including 6 religious festivals (Easter Monday, Ascension, Whit Monday, August 15, November 1 and Christmas) and 5 non-religious (New Year’s Day, 1st May, May 8, July 14, November 11). In addition, there are particularities: for Alsace-Moselle 2 days (Good Friday, Saint Etienne), for the Antilles, November 2 (day of the dead), Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday and Abolition of slavery, May 22 in Martinique, May 27 in Guadeloupe, June 10 in Guyana, October 9 in St Barthélémy.

We can add school canteens: with or without pork, halal … This will remind some of the fish, unappetizing, of Friday …


The presence in France of a significant number of Muslims is a relatively new situation in the history of the country. Situation which is found in other European countries and requires an effort of adaptation of the ones and the others. With possible confits.

They would be avoided if the principles of freedom, equality of brotherhood were really applied. It’s illusory. If they are to be concrete, there must always be demands which may have difficulty being heard.

Because they question acquired advantages of which the beneficiaries are not always aware. Because certain claims can be considered inadmissible.

However, everyone must be able to express themselves and put everything on the table. And the compromises discussed.
It is for society as a whole to discuss and set the rules.

Le voile… trente ans… et après

1 – See the article published in January 1990 and reproduced on 12/17/19 in french

2 a – Law n ° 2004-228 of March 15, 2004 in application of the principle of laïcité, the wearing of signs or outfits showing a religious affiliation in public schools, colleges and lycées. Art. L. 141-5-1. – In public schools, colleges and lycées, the wearing of signs or outfits by which pupils ostensibly manifest a religious affiliation is prohibited.
2 b – Law n ° 2010-1192 of October 11, 2010 prohibiting the concealment of the face in public space. Art. 1 – No one may, in public space, wear an outfit intended to conceal his face

3 – Different types of veils.

Hijab: does not cover the body, only the head, leaving the face visible.
Niqab: covers the face except the eyes. Mainly worn in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
Chador: traditionally worn in Iran and in some countries of Central Asia. The face is not covered, but the piece of fabric covers the whole body.
Burqa: Full veil worn in Afghanistan, covers the body and the face.

4 – A study was published in 2013 by the Pew Research Center on 20,000 people from 7 countries with a Muslim majority (Tunisia, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey). Everywhere, a majority considers the hijab necessary. It is most cited in Tunisia (57%), Egypt (52%), Turkey (46%) Iraq (44%), Pakistan (32%) followed by the niqab (31%) and the hijab (24%) .

5 – The Blanquer law of 07/29/19 concerns few children (25,000), since 97- 98% of children in this age group are already in school. But collateral effect, in fact main, the law allows a new transfer of public money to the private school. The State allocates to each municipality the resources corresponding to the increase in compulsory expenditure which it has granted in application of the provisions of articles… within the limit of the share of increase resulting directly from the reduction to three years of the age of compulsory education. Or, 100 to 150 million euros per year, at least half of which will be paid for by the municipalities of private nursery schools.

6 – As in Algeria moreover: on the occasion of the hirak, the demonstrators against the Algerian power do not miss the opportunity to condemn foreign interference, under French understanding and the government speaks of some of its opponents as a party of France.

7 – It was also questionable and provocative by the use of children who carried a five pointed star to compare them to the Jewish children of which number ended up in Auschwitz.

Le voile… trente ans… et après


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