The French woman wants her son to become a Muslim

In France, a new law could seriously restrict women’s rights to wear headscarves in public, and there are fears that it will entrench Islamophobia

Last October, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, laid out the vision behind a new, deeply controversial bill. The government claimed a minority of France’s estimated 6 million Muslims were at risk of forming a “counter-society” and the bill was designed to tackle the dangers of this “Islamist separatism”.

The French woman wants her son to become a Muslim

It is meant to safeguard republican values, but critics, including Amnesty International, have raised serious concerns that it may inhibit freedom of association and expression, and increase discrimination. The new law, say critics, will severely affect the construction of mosques, and give more discretion to local authorities to close local associations deemed in conflict with

“Republican principles”, a term often wielded against Muslims specifically. But one of the most controversial points is extending the ban on women wearing headscarves in public sector roles, to private organizations that provide a public service. Further amendments were tabled prohibiting full-length swimsuits (“burkinis”), girls under 18 from wearing the hijab in public, and mothers from wearing hijabs on their children’s school trips. These were subsequently overturned, but the stigma they legitimize lives on.

This month, the EU court of justice said that EU companies can, under certain conditions, ban employees from wearing a headscarf. While Macron’s government has been at pains to insist the new law isn’t aimed at any particular religion, many Muslims fear exactly that.

“We are seeing a justification of a breach of freedom and fundamental rights in the name of security – a weaponisation of secularism,” says the French legal scholar Rim-Sarah Alouane. “It’s a deformed legal monster, which aims not only to contain Muslims but to erase them from the public sphere.