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    French PM Under Fire Over Call to Ban Muslim Headscarves at Universities

    © AFP 2019 / OLIVER BERG
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    The socialist prime minister of France, Manuel Valls, has once again raised the thorny question of Muslim headscarves in the country, calling for a ban on the custom at the nation’s universities, and causing outrage amongst party fellows.

    In an extended interview with the French daily Liberation, Valls outlined that French Muslims should be “protected” from what the politician considers to be contagious extremist ideas. Valls said that a scarf covering a woman’s head stops being "an object of fashion or consumption like any other" and becomes a political gesture, undermining basic gender freedoms.

    Answering the question on whether a ban on headscarves should be introduced in higher education institutes, he said that “it should.” However, he noted that the current constitution makes such a move difficult.

    His statements immediately caused a backlash among other socialist politicians.

    “There is no need for a law on the headscarf at university,” Thierry Mandon, the higher education minister, claimed, pointing out that this piece of clothing is not banned anywhere else in French society.

    France’s education minister, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, agreed, saying that university students are young adults who have constitutional rights, including freedom of conscience and religious liberty.

    "Our universities also have a lot of foreign students,” she added. “Are we going to ban them access because in their culture there's a certain type of clothing?"

    The Muslim headscarf debate has been ongoing in France for many years. Former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who restricted the wearing of niqabs (a face veil covering all but the eyes) in public places in France, spoke in favor of banning headscarves.

    Air France has recently allowed its female crewmembers to avoid working on flights to Iran, a country where headscarves are required anywhere off the aircraft.

    Valls said that Islam, the second-most popular religion in France, must be “fundamentally compatible with the Republic, democracy, our values and equality between men and women."

    "Certain people don't want to believe it, a majority of French citizens doubt it, but I'm convinced that it's possible," he said of conforming Islam with French values.

    Commenting on the interview, a member of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, Abdallah Zekri, claimed that Valls statements represent "populist discourse which is worse than the far-right."

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    Tags:
    Islam, headscarf, French Socialist Party, French Council of the Muslim Faith, Nicholas Sarkozy, Manuel Valls, France
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