Naima Bouteldja: Muslims and European authoritarianism

Naima Bouteldja, in today’s Guardian, discusses the impending Dutch niqab ban and the pattern of governments stoking anti-Muslim hostility for political ends:

Naima Azough, a Dutch Green MP, points out that the ban would apply to fewer than 100 women. “This didn’t come from public pressure,” she says, “but was initiated by the immigration minister, Rita Verdonk, whose Liberal-Conservative party is scrambling for far-right votes.” The result will simply reinforce the perception of Muslims that they will never be accepted in Dutch society.

And the French anti-hijab laws similarly didn’t come from the public, but from on high:

France provided the political laboratory. In April 2003, the headscarf row came out of nowhere; within a year it had been outlawed in state schools. No serious demands to ban the headscarf had ever come from teaching bodies, students or the public. It simply wasn’t seen as a problem before April 2003: of the 10 million students in French state schools, only 1,250 wore the headscarf.

So who or what sparked “l’affaire du foulard”? Françoise Lorcerie, the editor of The Politicisation of the Veil in France, Europe and the Arab World, points the finger at France’s interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, who, in a generally well-received speech to the Union of French Muslim Organisations in April 2003, sparked uproar in the hall when he reminded the audience that wearing the headscarf on national ID card photos was “unlawful”.

Within days, commentators and celebrities were demanding the banning of the headscarf in schools. In 2003, three French papers (Le Monde, Libération and Le Figaro) published 1,284 articles on the subject. By contrast, the hotly contested plan to reform social security - a genuine national debate that brought tens of thousands on to the streets - registered only 478 times.

Significantly, the Stasi commission, which recommended the ban, also recommended such things as including things like slavery and colonialism in the teaching of French history; the government ignored nearly all of them.

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