PERTUIS, France ( Associated Press) — A Muslim headscarf played a key role in France’s presidential campaign on Friday amid pressure from far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in a country with the largest Muslim population in Western Europe.
Faced with a tough fight on 24 April, Emmanuel Macron and his rival Emmanuel Macron were both confronted by women in headscarves who asked why their clothing choices should be caught in politics. Macron will not ban religious clothing, but he has overseen the closure of several mosques and Islamic groups. And many Muslims feel that the presidential campaign has unfairly tarnished 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.
Read more: The only Arab American museum in the nation is ‘more than a building’
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… for 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 opposition to the headscarf has stigmatized millions of French Muslims, making them dangerous to French unity, his critics say. Le Pen would also reduce immigration and prevent ritual slaughter, which would restrict French Muslims and Jews’ access to kosher and halal meat.
See more: WATCH: How American Muslims have been represented in popular culture after 9/11
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 he would not change any laws, but he defended the current ban on scarves in schools as part of France’s secular principles.
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 a leader to condemn this injustice,” she said. And she reiterated the argument that many veiled women in France make: that people mistakenly think they are, not because of personal preference, but because men wear headscarves to them.
Macron sought to defend his record. “For me personally, the question of scarves is not an obsession,” Macron said.
But critics say his government fuels prejudices against Muslims, which they claim are attempts by some Muslims to create blank spaces in France for a harsher interpretation of Islam. The government has gone after some schools, mosques and Islamic associations.