The Headscarf affair which took place in France during the 1990s is a clear representation of the French refusal to revise their national identity. As the rate of post-colonial migration rose, so did the population of Muslims living in France. This rise of Muslim population spurred the start of the Headscarf affair which was used as a tool, against Muslims, to prevent the revision of the French national identity. The affair was justified by three main reasons, 1) to protect the idea of Secularism, 2) to achieve a “visible integration” and 3) to prevent the inevitable Islamic invasion of France.
These three justifications, when considered in conjunction with each other, are able to show how the Headscarf affair in France is representative of a French refusal to revise their national identity and incorporate their new post-colonial migrants into their society. The French held high the ideology of Republic Universalism, a notion that aimed to decrease traces of difference between people, resulting in a national ‘sameness’. From this, the idea of Secularism was formed which aimed to provide a clear barrier between the State and religion.
If the French could succeed in executing the idea of Secularism, they could separate the state from religious practices which would in turn remove any “religious divides that exist in society” which would lead to a religious sameness which in turn would add to the national identity of France and would prevent a revision of this identity. The Headscarf affair became the French government’s tool to the protection of Secularism in France. In 1989 the affair began when headmaster Ernest Cheniere refused to let three girls, each wearing an Islamic Headscarf into school ‘on the grounds that it would contravene with the principle of Secularism.
The affair continued to gain momentum until in 1994 Francois Bayrou, the Minister for Education, put a ban on the wearing of any “Overt” religious symbols to school, with the aim of removing any religious divides and promoting equality and sameness. This rapid growth of the affair from the point of a refused entry to a ban on the Headscarf not only shows the French dislike towards the Muslim community but also indicates how the Headscarf affair, through the implementation of Secularism, represents the French refusal to revise their national identity.
To the French it seems that appearance is more than reality when it comes to the idea of national identity. It can be argued that the French, with consideration to the post-colonial influx of Muslims, were only after a “visual integration”. It did not matter if the nation was actually unified and could be identified on a deeper more patriotic level; the focus was on the appearance of the nation. If the citizens of France appeared to have one identity, an identity that promoted the idea of sameness, as discussed earlier, then the national identity of the country was upheld.
In order, however, for the French to retain this identity of visual integration and sameness, something had to be done about the Muslim women who were “emphasising religious differences” by wearing the headscarf. Action was taken against visual setbacks to national identity in 1994 when, as previously stated, Francois Bayrou placed ban on the wearing of all “overt and ostentatious” religious symbols. His justification was that the wearing of such symbols ‘separated students’ by causing visible “barriers to assimilation”, integration and unification.
Clearly, the aim of Bayrou was to demolish any visible differences between the citizens of France and retain this visible unification that was deemed to be the French national identity. Ironically however, excluded from this ban were the Christian Crucifix and the Jewish Kippa, both being deemed “discreet. ” Had Bayrou been consistent in his ban of visible and ‘overt’ religious symbols, his justification of the separation of children may have been plausible.
With this ironic exclusion in mind we are now in a position to examine the real underlying factor as to why the Headscarf affair began in the first place and why the French used it to protect a potential revision of their National Identity. The primary and underlying factor contributing to the French Headscarf Affair during the 1990s is the French paranoia of the “phenomenon of Islamicization. ” The French were convinced that with the mass influx of post-colonial Muslims, an Islamic invasion of France would come and with this invasion would come the rapid demise of the already established French national identity.
As the wearing of the headscarf became more apparent on Islamic women in France, the French paranoia grew stronger with the Front National party going as far as proclaiming that the Muslims were “implanting themselves symbolically by the wearing of the headscarf. ” In an attempt to protect their country from Islamic invasion and a potential revision of their national identity, the French implemented the ban on Islamic Headscarves and recruited support for this ban from the French community. The government used the media as their main source of recruitment; often portraying Muslim girls as tools used by the Islam’s to infiltrate France.
Newspapers began to sprout exaggerated and bias headlines such as “Headscarves, the plot: how are Islamists infiltrating us” and articles declaring that “the fact that Muslim girls wished to wear a headscarf was a clear sign of Invasion. ” With the support of the majority of the citizens in France, the French began executing the headscarf ban around the country in a desperate attempt to defend their nation from “the invasion by a troubling stranger and the fear of losing supremacy” and in turn prevent themselves from having to completely reconstruct their national identity.
As we can see by examining the French Headscarf Affair and its three primary reasons of justification, the protection of Secularism, the achievement of “Visible Integration” and the prevention of an Islamic invasion, the Headscarf affair of the 1990s does in fact represent a French refusal to revise their national identity and incorporate their new post-colonial migrants into their society.
Courtney from Study Moose
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