The tension between France’s historic emphasis on secularism and its growing Muslim population is slowly heating to a boil. Secularists want to ban niqabs (facial veils) in the workplace, and Muslims are resistant. Eight percent of French citizens are Muslims.
When a Muslim woman was ticketed for veiling her face publicly, her husband allegedly attacked an officer and was arrested. Muslims protested by setting dozens of cars afire.
Interior Minister Manuel Valls, who spoke at a dinner breaking the Ramadan fast at the Grand Mosque of Paris, attacked “a rise of violence against the Muslims of France” and insisted that Islam and the French Republic can coexist. But he warned about growing Islamic influence, denouncing “those who want to make France a land of conquest.”
A law against wearing “ostentatious” religious symbols in public schools was passed in 2004, which essentially targeted traditional Muslim garb. Two years ago a law was passed banning burqa-style veils in public, yet a report by the Observatory of Secularism attested that some Muslim women have been stopped by police more than 10 times for flouting the law. Two were stopped more than 25 times.
One official in Nimes, responding to an ad by a supermarket chain for “oriental” dishes during the nightly breaking of the fast during Ramadan, posted on Facebook, “Our Republic, is it still secular? Everything is on the way out.”
In March, an appeals court ruled that the firing of a Muslim woman at a pre-school for refusing to remove her headscarf was illegal; the result was a spike in demands for laws protecting secularism. Socialist French President Hollande has not committed to a stance either way on the matter.