The veil, eternal subject of tension in France


Once again at the heart of a controversy, the wearing of the veil has hollowed out for thirty years deep lines of fracture that draw on the complex relationship of France to secularism and Islam, according to researchers.

The first controversy arose in 1989, with the case of Creil (Oise): three teenage girls are excluded from a college for wearing the veil, while opinion is torn between advocates of the right to schooling and supporters of a strict secularism.

"The Creil affair has created a cycle that has not come out, with a focus on the headscarf," says Ismaïl Ferhat, lecturer at the University of Picardy, who coordinated the book "The scarves of the discord".

"However, since then, the target has expanded a lot", he adds, listing the debates at the nursery (the Baby-loup case), on the full veil, the burkini, the municipal swimming pools, the clothes of and, most recently, mothers accompanying school trips.

This latest controversy was launched last week when a member of the National Rally (RN) invoked a veiled mother who accompanied a school trip to the Regional Council of Burgundy-Franche-Comte.

Since the Creil case, two laws have certainly been passed: one in 2004 that prohibits conspicuous religious symbols at school; the other in 2010, which banishes the full veil – when only the eyes are visible – in the public space.

But the controversy is still resurfacing regularly. According to Ferhat, the Creil affair was the first time that "secularism and the right of women" had been mixed so closely that some people had the idea that this garment "would make women inferior".

An argument used by Laurent Bouvet, professor of political science and controversial co-founder of the Republican Printemps, partisan of a firm line in matters of secularism: "Cover the woman not to arouse the desire of the man … There is an unequal side in this sailing port, "he says.

According to him, "for 30 years, the veil has become much more visible in French society and in certain neighborhoods".

Added to this is the fact that "since the Iranian revolution (in 1979, Ed), fundamentalist forms of Islam have developed, for which the visibility of religion is an essential element". "These two phenomena have made the headscarf more controversial in itself, and it has acquired a kind of political value," he says.

– In 1905, debates on the cassock –

The sociologist and philosopher Raphaël Liogier believes, him, that the meanings of the veil are "very diverse according to the ages and according to the decades". And denounces a "univocal vision, based on a skewed conception of secularism, to say that veiled women are either alienated or potential terrorists."

"It is this gap between the two that creates controversy", according to the author of "Manifesto Metaphysical", which defends the thesis that it is above all a spiritual expression.

The historian Philippe Portier, from the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, plunges into the history of France to explain the repeated polemics on the veil, especially the legacy of "colonization and decolonization" during which installed "the idea that one had to control the Muslim religion".

More recently, since the end of the 1990s, "every time there is an attack, the political class and, correlatively, public opinion, experience a whiff of security will and affirmation of identity", note-t -he.

We then observe "an increase in the use of the theme of secularism", used "not in the liberal sense" but "as an instrument of total marginalization of the religious".

The secularist historian Jean Baubérot, author of "The 1905 law will not take place", stresses that the liberal secularism / authoritarian secularism opposition already existed at the time of the debates prior to the 1905 law on the separation of the churches and the state. "The liberal vision of Aristide Briand and Jean Jaurès has triumphed".

He also recalled that before the vote on this emblematic text, the question of including the ban on the wearing of religious clothing had been raised. In the collimator at the time: the cassock.

According to Baubérot, "the arguments put forward at the time in favor of a ban are very analogous to the current period: + more political than religious meaning +, + act of proselytism +, + sign of submission to the hierarchy +". But they had not been retained.


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