A ban on French Muslimahs wearing hijab in public schools seems inevitable after president Jacques Chirac voiced support for the findings of a government commission recommending that "visible religious symbols" be banned as inconsistent with the French state’s secular ethos. Since the recommendation was announced, there have been protests from numerous directions, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, at what is rightly seen as an attack of Muslimahs’ freedom to exercise their religion. As several observers have pointed out, the hijab is not a religious "symbol" like a cross pendant or a Jewish skullcap; rather it is a religious requirement without which Muslimahs are not fully dressed or decent. The decision to insist that Muslimahs remove their hijabs in public schools –” and supporters of the ban are already planning to extend it to other public institutions, such as hospitals –” is a demand that Muslim women should go about in what they consider to be a state of undress in order not to offend non-Muslims who demand the right to see even those parts of a women’s beauty that she would prefer to not to expose.
Proponents of the ban use a number of arguments to justify it. Among other things, they say that it is obviously not an essential part of Islam as many Muslim women do not wear it. This is nonsense; the fact that a minority of Muslims disagree that the hijab is compulsory does not make it any less important to those who believe that is is compulsory. Supporters of the ban also say that it is used by Muslim men to impose oppression on women. This argument is effectively countered by the thousands of Muslimahs in France who have taken to the streets to protest against the ban. In effect, the French state is by arguing that it will insist that most Muslimahs expose themselves in case a few are being forced to wear hijab against their will.
None of these arguments are at all convincing. The basic truth is that the home of "liberty, equality and fraternity" is taking steps to restrict the freedom of Muslim women to practise Islam because they feel threatened and offended by the sight of Muslims being visibly Muslim. This is as great an exposure of the true value of Western rhetoric on such ideals as liberalism, democracy and human rights as the Bush administration’s concentration camps in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere, or the British government’s Islamophobic "anti-terror" legislation. The fact is that, as Muslims become more determined to practise their Islam and to identify with the troubles of their brethren all over the world, we are bound to become increasingly unwelcome in Western countries.