While France was voting for its next president, the Islamic community feared for its own future.
5.7 million Muslims live in France, making up 8.8% of the population, and making France the country with the largest Muslim population in Europe. Since the 2015 terrorist attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for the publishing of caricatures of Prophet Muhammad, French Muslims have been haunted by rising Islamophobia. As the elections approached, anti-Muslim sentiment spreaded all over the country.
Emmanuel Macron’s prospects of winning a second consecutive election were far from assured in the running for presidency while Marine Le Pen’s victory wasn’t a long-shot anymore.
Multiple times the French government had shown through the Anti-Radicalism Bill and the Anti-terrorism Bill a willingness to create restrictions aimed at the Muslim community. The French government tends to adhere to the concept of secularism in a patriotic way, making Muslims inclusion harder.
Macron or Le Pen? The choice may have been hard for many but not for the disadvantaged classes. For them the choice was bright and clear because of the possibility of seeing their future turning dark.
This year the level of participation in this election was very low, almost 26% of the population abstained, the lowest records since the elections in 2002. A large part of the population stated that they do not feel represented by their politicians. The famous French rapper, Nekfeu, sang “maybe if those guys looked like you you would vote’); and, referring to politicians, “they fight to defend their rights and restrict those of others.”
Macron and Le Pen’s electoral programs are extremely different, almost opposite. Their platforms diverge on more than one point—nuclear energy, Europe—but above all, they differentiate themselves on their social views and positions regarding immigration and Islam.
Fifteen months before the elections, the representative of the extreme right party, le Rassemblemet National, revealed an extremely anti-islamic platform that inflamed the political debates of the last few months. Le Pen promised in one of her recent interviews that if she was going to become president, she would have banned the wearing of the veil in public spaces in France, since she considers the hijab an “Islamist uniform,” not a religious garment.
Le Pen’s intentions caused a backlash and resparked the debate over religious freedom, gender equality, freedom of expression and cultural rights, which are recognised human rights. At this point, many wondered, what does the law say about the banning of hijab?
The international Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states in article 18, “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”
But those rights can’t be considered absolute. In fact, this same article, in its third section, allows the “freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others,” which is the reason why this ban could eventually become reality.
Le Pen also stated that not every woman that wears hijab is an Islamist since many of them are victims, and ironically said that she wants every woman to consider themselves free to do what they want.
In a France governed by Le Pen, maybe my nana would not have been able to wear what makes her happy. Maybe we would have been stopped together at the grocery store and she would have been asked to take off her hijab. Maybe the police officer at the train station would have taken it off without her consent.
But, luckily for France, that is not the future that prevailed.
After Macron’s victory, the French Muslim community can feel relieved, but it doesn’t mean that Muslims will stop fighting for more rights.
Cover image: Jaeraymie/instagram