Informative Essay on the Veil as a Weapon of Right-Wing Politics in France

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Across Europe, nationalist movements attempting to regain sovereignty have led to the rise of populist, right-wing parties. This has also led to a rise in secularism, especially in France. The discouragement of religion in the public sphere placed a target on Muslim women as their clothing was a clear indicator of religious affiliation. The debates surrounding the wearing of the veil in public areas have existed for a long time. In 2009, Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president at the time, stated during a speech that the veil was a sign of submission and oppression of Muslim women. Building on this, he went on to say that those who wear veils would not be allowed into France as his country did not hold the values of the imprisonment of women’s identity. In April 2011, France became the first country in Europe to pass legislation to ban full-face veils in public areas. The debate around the veil in France is based on several factors, including nationalism, security, immigration, and equality. Since then, the veil has been weaponized by right-wing political parties to further drive their nationalist movements. Despite this, the number of adult women who wear a veil in Western countries is, on average, well below half of one percent. So, why has the veil become such a target, and how has it been used to fuel other political debates? This essay will examine the extent to which the veil has been weaponized by right-wing politics in France. Firstly, I will introduce the history behind veil-wearing customs and traditions in Islam and highlight how they became debated. Moving on, I will then highlight how secularism in France placed a large target on Muslim women and how this then began to weaponize the veil. To conclude, I will challenge the perceptions created by right-wing politics in France before summarizing the essay, where I will further highlight the extent to which the veil has been used by right-wing politics.

Today, head coverings hold a place in most religions, not just Islam. The use of veils and other head coverings in cultures across the Arabian Peninsula, the Middle East, and Saharan Africa can be dated back to times that pre-exist Islam. As Islam began to spread across the world, local veiling customs began to be incorporated with the religion, and this further influenced other customs and traditions. There are a wide variety of veils and headscarves now incorporated with Islam. The most popular of these in Western society is the hijab. The hijab consists of one or two scarves that cover both the head and the neck. This is considered to be the most traditional veil, with the majority of Muslim women wearing it. Other veils include the niqab and the burqa, and these are the type of veils that are causing the largest amount of controversy across Europe. It is important to highlight that veils can hold meanings that are not religious, with some veils holding political meanings or others being associated with a location. Politicians, especially those on the right wing of the political spectrum, argue that these veils create security concerns whilst also interfering with communication. It is not new for the veiling traditions of Islam to receive some criticism. Many critics of these traditions will argue that Muslim women are somewhat forced to wear the veil. On the other hand, Muslim women in the Western world argue that the veil is an image of devotion, religious identity, and self-expression. Some Muslim women have even suggested that the banning of the veil in France and other countries across Europe will consequently lead to more women choosing to wear the veil as a symbol of resistance and defiance. The political debates surrounding the veil began well before the ban on full-face veils in France in 2011. French and British colonizers would encourage Muslim women to remove the veil in an attempt to force them into the mold of the stereotypical European woman. Because of this, the veil has become a symbol of resistance to the West in countries across Northern Africa and the Middle East.

The French government’s obsession with the veil surprisingly exceeds that of the large majority of countries in the Western world. Even in countries such as the United States and England, two countries hit hard by multiple extremist attacks, the veil is not seen politically as an image of uprising and rebellion. As well as this, the need for ethnic, racial, and religious differences to be suppressed to some extent for a person to experience inclusion within a nation is not required in the majority of countries in the Western world. Whilst it is possible to argue that with the rise of populist, right-wing parties across Europe this may become the case sooner or later, currently, it is not the case. So, why is France an outlier in its preoccupation with the veil?

It seems reasonable to diagnose the French fixation on the veil as an image of rebellion as some form of political hysteria. The political actions in the form of disciplinary laws, warnings, and the aggressive expression of politics directed towards the veil appear to be, on the surface at least, unreasonable. This political rhetoric has also found its way into mainstream media in France. Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine infamous for its controversial cartoons, began to suggest that there was some sort of correlation between the wearing of the veil and terrorist attacks across France. Cartoons of this nature could easily be viewed as a form of Islamophobia which, ironically, is something both Charlie Hebdo and France as a country frown upon.

Secularism in France, also known as laïcité, discourages the involvement of religion in government affairs, especially discouraging the influence of religion in the creation of state policies. The use of laïcité began during the late 19th century in an attempt to reduce the power of the Catholic Church in the public domain. Today, laïcité attempts to separate religion from the public sphere, suggesting it should stay in a person’s private life in an attempt to make the public sphere a more equal place. This then implies that items of religious clothing should not be worn in the public sphere. It can also be seen as a way to define a certain identity of ‘Frenchness’ that brings with it the exclusion of Islamic cultures and traditions.

The banning of the veil in the name of equality, more specifically women’s equality, brings another dimension to the worrying fixation on the clothing worn by Muslim women. Whilst the principles of laïcité state that the government must remain neutral when it comes to religion, it does not have any implications for the equality of both men and women. ‘La nouvelle laïcité’ was developed in 2003, just as the debates surrounding the veil and other head coverings were just beginning. This collection of legislation is what requires people to get a better grasp on religious neutrality in the public sphere. Building on this, it also suggests that removing all indications of religious affiliation is a necessity for inclusion within a nation.

Building upon the identity of ‘Frenchness’ previously mentioned, it can be argued that cultural assimilation is one of the defining attributes of this identity. This is also commonplace across nationalist, right-wing identities across Western Europe. Far-right parties across Europe drive the idea of having a nation with a uniform composition, with immigrants being expected to immediately pick up the primary language and show that their loyalties lie with both the cultural and political characteristics of the country. However, how have these ideologies led to the obsession with Muslim women and their clothing?

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As I mentioned earlier in this essay, populist right-wing political parties have experienced a rise in popularity over recent years. This could be attributed to how their policies help to promote the ideas of the nation, reclaiming their sovereignty and in this case promoting the idea of ‘Frechness’. Taking on the perspective of these parties, head coverings worn by Muslim women become an obvious target as they visibly display a person’s religious affiliation. The target of Muslim men is much smaller as their clothing in the public sphere is not as visible as a marker. The right-wing in France also uses the veil, as well as other head coverings, as an image of repression. Within the current political rhetoric in France, a veiled woman is considered to be subservient to her religion. An image such as this has no place in today’s society and, if anything, highlights a significant step back from religious inclusion in France.

Despite this, I believe that there might be more to the political hysteria surrounding the veil in France. As I stated in the introduction, the debate around the veil in France is based on several factors, including nationalism, security, immigration, and equality. This debate begins because of a variety of contradictions that are a constant throughout French politics, both on the left and right sides of the political spectrum. Ideologies of a homogenous nation are met by the ideologies of Islam, and this leads to many perceiving that the wearing of the veil contradicts the current French republican values of equality, liberty, and brotherhood. Focusing on this issue of equality, many believe that the veil signifies the submission of Muslim women, which shows the veil as a weapon of inequality. As well as this, a separation could be created between those who wear a veil and those who do not. To those who hold a nationalist view, this could mean that the values and identities of France are no longer desirable as those who wear a veil have chosen not to mold themselves around them. The large majority of non-Muslim people across Europe are unable to distinguish between veils that carry religious meanings and those that hold cultural importance. Because of this, nationalists are allowed to further weaponize veils which allows the debate surrounding them to continue. The factors of nationalism and immigration in this debate highlight a broader issue in France. The debate surrounding the veil highlights an issue of national cohesion, particularly surrounding how Islam fits into Western society. This issue can be seen in nearly all countries within Western Europe. It reflects how the relationships between Western societies and Islam have deteriorated because of right-wing politics and media representation. The sudden increase in bans and legislation surrounding religious clothing, especially that of Muslim women highlights an increased concern about national identities, cultures, and values. These concerns tend to represent cultural anxiety that has increased significantly over the past two decades. The rise of this cultural anxiety has been riled up by right-wing political parties and other political movements which hold strong nationalist views. Because of the rise of these populist parties across Europe, the movements which call for bans on face-veiling are now much more widespread. Germany, Italy, Spain, and Belgium have all now either taken some form of action against the wearing of the veil or are currently considering implementing a similar level of legislation. Because of this, the veil has become an image of the ‘significant other’, with nationalist parties using it as a weapon to attempt to show how Muslim women are refusing to integrate, whilst also highlighting the issues of multiculturalism.

On the other hand, I believe it is important to look at the arguments which exist for not controlling people’s ability to wear a veil in public. The governments across Europe that have taken action against the wearing of the veil in public have been cited as saying that the veil is a symbol of oppression. This then prevents Muslim women from fully integrating into Western society, causing a separation between them and Europeans. However, I do not believe these to be serious enough issues to incite a ban on veil-wearing in the public sphere.

Many people across Europe do not seem to see that the large majority of Muslim women do not wear a veil to please their male counterparts, but instead, they wear one as an act of worship or, in some circumstances, as a symbol of resistance. Whilst women in some countries have been forced to wear some form of head covering, these are very rare exceptions today and do not represent the general population. In France, it is estimated that only around 2000 Muslims choose to wear a veil. This is out of a population of about 5 million Muslim women. Whilst this is only a prediction, it highlights the fact that there are very few women today that choose to wear a veil. Arguments that suggest that the veil prevents Muslim women from fully integrating into Western society are also pretty redundant and quite ironic. The representation of Muslim women in governments across Europe is incredibly small. Because of this, it is ironic that governments across Europe are attempting to take away the right to wear religious clothing by suggesting that the veil does not allow Muslim women the ability to achieve equal opportunities in a European country. If anything, the banning of the veil in the public sphere would stop Muslim women from exercising their right to practice religion, which would then alienate them from society.

The debate surrounding the banning of the veil across Europe can be explained through many different factors. However, the reasons listed in this essay can be considered as circumferential issues used to simply highlight the main reason as to why people across Europe want the wearing of the veil in the public sphere to be banned. Surveys conducted across Europe indicate that people are simply uncomfortable with Muslim women wearing veils in public. Focusing again on France, surveys indicate that around 75% of people support the banning of the veil because of this reason alone. This offers a clear indication that the French public, as well as the majority of Europeans, do not approve of the wearing of the veil in public areas because they simply do not share the same values as those that do wear it. Scarily, this view is now shared by a large proportion of European politicians. It is human nature to feel uncertain about something that they do not like, however, it is just as human to accept the cultures of others and embrace the way in which they live. European politicians, especially those in France, need to use some patience to attempt to accept something they might dislike, rather than just condemn it in the name of national identity and security.

As someone who is not Muslim and does not have any religious affiliations, my personal view is that the banning of the veil in public spaces in France is a way to oppress Muslim women. Using the points I have discussed throughout this essay, I believe that Muslim women should be given the opportunity to decide for themselves if they would want to wear the veil in the public sphere. It is quite ironic, given the reasons why the legislation against the wearing of the veil was put in place, that an item of clothing is being used as a weapon to segregate women. Many people in power, like former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, have taken it into their own hands to drive the message that the veil is a symbol of female oppression. The legislation put into place is just as oppressive as it forces Muslim women to remove their veil against their will. European countries should respect the decisions made by Muslim women to wear the veil; especially given the deeper meanings it can carry. People should embrace the culture as they would like their own culture to be embraced if they were to travel somewhere.

To conclude, I believe that this essay shows that the debate surrounding the banning of the veil in France has been significantly influenced by nationalist identities and the greater ideologies of right-wing politics in the country. Debates that stemmed from the legislation put in place in France saw a sinister combination of right-wing populists and secularists. This combination has driven nationalist movements across France for the past decade and continues to use the veil as an image of oppression and as a threat to national security. This then allows the government to further justify its reasoning behind the banning of the veil in the public sphere. This essay has also highlighted that the rationale that the French government uses to provide support for the banning of religious clothing in the public sphere does not hold any credibility. While right-wing politicians have attempted to couple the veil together with the oppression of Muslim women, the opposite may be the case.

Muslim women choose to wear certain types of religious clothing, including the veil, for a multitude of reasons. Women will wear a veil to symbolize their devotion to Islam, whereas others will wear one as a symbol of resistance towards those who are attempting to suppress them. It is important to highlight that veils can hold meanings that are not religious, with some veils holding political meanings or others being associated with a location. Because of this, banning the veil in public places is arguably more oppressive, as it limits Muslim women’s right to practice their religion freely. Muslim women across Europe who choose to wear any form of religious clothing should not be limited in their choice. Sadly, it would appear that with the rise of populist political parties across Europe, legislation against the wearing of religious items in public will only become more common.

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Informative Essay on the Veil as a Weapon of Right-Wing Politics in France. (2023, October 11). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 15, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/informative-essay-on-the-veil-as-a-weapon-of-right-wing-politics-in-france/
“Informative Essay on the Veil as a Weapon of Right-Wing Politics in France.” Edubirdie, 11 Oct. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/informative-essay-on-the-veil-as-a-weapon-of-right-wing-politics-in-france/
Informative Essay on the Veil as a Weapon of Right-Wing Politics in France. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/informative-essay-on-the-veil-as-a-weapon-of-right-wing-politics-in-france/> [Accessed 15 Apr. 2024].
Informative Essay on the Veil as a Weapon of Right-Wing Politics in France [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Oct 11 [cited 2024 Apr 15]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/informative-essay-on-the-veil-as-a-weapon-of-right-wing-politics-in-france/
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