PERTUIS, France ( Associated Press) — Muslim headscarves in France, a perennial issue, took center stage in the country’s presidential campaign on Friday, a campaign by far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in the country with the largest Muslim population in Western Europe. under pressure to ban.
He and rival Emmanuel Macron, both at the forefront of elections seeking a second term as president, face a tough fight on April 24. They both clashed with women in headscarves who asked why their clothing choices should be caught up in politics.
Macron will not ban religious clothing, but he has overseen the closure of several mosques, schools and Islamic groups, with the help of a special team to root out suspected breeding grounds for radicalization. Macron’s government also passed a controversial law last year to fight “separatism”, a term used to describe mixing politics with Islam, which is seen as dangerous to France’s prized value of secularism. goes.
Now, some Muslims feel that the presidential campaign is once again tarnishing their faith.
At a farmers market in the southern city of Pertuis, a woman with a blue and white head approached Le Pen as the candidate weaved past fishermen and vendors to greet supporters.
“What is the headscarf doing in politics?” the woman asked.
Le Pen defended his position, calling the headscarf “a uniform imposed over time by those with a radical view of Islam”.
“That’s not true,” replied the woman. “I started wearing the veil when I was an older woman… to me it’s a sign of being a grandmother.” The woman said that her father had served in the French army for 15 years.
Le Pen’s platform calls for a ban on Islamic headscarves on French streets, a major step up from two already existing laws, a ban on headscarfs in classrooms in 2004 and a ban on face coverings on streets in 2010. Headscarves are common clothing for many Muslim women.
Her opposition to the headscarf has alienated millions of French Muslims, something her critics say is a threat to French unity. Le Pen would also reduce immigration and prevent ritual slaughter, which would restrict French Muslims and Jews’ access to kosher and halal meat.
Macron also argued with a woman in a Muslim headscarf in a lively exchange on broadcaster France-Info on Friday. He tried to distance himself from Le Pen by saying that he would not change any laws.
The woman, Sarah El Attar, said she was offended by Macron’s previous comments, where she suggested that headscarves destabilize relations between men and women.
French women “have been reprimanded for a simple scarf in these recent years, without any leader condemned to denounce this injustice.” And he reiterated the argument that many veils women make in France: People mistakenly think men wear them with headscarves, and that’s not a personal choice.
“For me personally, the question of headscarf is not an obsession,” said Macron, seeking to defend his record.
Le Pen argues that Muslim headscarves serve as “markers” of Islamic ideology, which she sees as a gateway to extremism.
Marwan Muhammad, an outspoken former director of a group campaigning against Islamophobia – and has since been banned by the government – said Macron and Le Pen have turned Islam into electoral football in France, both in their own right. Clapped for support among the audience.
He said Le Pen’s more radical position is “a blessing for Macron”.
“What he wants is to present himself as an alternative, when in fact his policies of the last five years have been disastrous for Muslims,” Muhammad said.
“I want a president who accepts me as a person,” said 19-year-old French student Nella Ouazarf, in a beige robe and matching head covering, before walking into a mosque in eastern Paris . She said that her clothes reflect her religious beliefs, adding that neither her mother, nor sister, nor most of her friends cover their heads – which she fully accepts.
But she will defy the promised law when Le Pen becomes president.
If Le Pen wins, “I’ll take a fine every time I go out”, instead of covering her head, the young woman said, days before Le Pen and Macron were confronted by Muslim women. The law envisioned by Le Pen would call for an unspecified fine on women who fail to respect the headscarf ban.
A young man accompanying Auzurf, whom she timidly calls her fiancé, said she had a better idea than paying the fine.
Mohamed Tagite, 19, said, “If we have to, we will leave (France) so that we are not harassed, so that people do not look at us with an evil eye.”
Ganli reported from Paris. John Leicester and Angela Charlton contributed in Paris.
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