Bigotry in the Guise of Secularism

Hopkins, Carmen Teeple
Date Written:  2015-03-01
Publisher:  Against the Current
Year Published:  2015
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX20924

The murder at Charlie Hebdo and the Paris kosher supermarket have unleashed a wave of attacks on French Muslim communities, their culture and religion.The analysis by Carmen Teeple Hopkins helps explain the background of the present dangers and tragedies.



In the spring of 2011, France became the first country in Europe to ban the burka and niqab (face veil) from public space. Any woman who wears the burka or niqab in public can be fined 150 euros or forced to take a course on French citizenship. Of the five million Muslims in France, fewer than 2000 wear a face veil.

An International Women's Day issue is the perfect place to discuss a topic that has been so divisive among feminists. I hope to make the case that it is crucial to oppose religious dress laws. But first, some context.

Talking about anti-veiling laws in France means talking about laïcité, the secular division of Church from State. A historically rooted and politically charged word in France, it is regularly used to justify anti-veiling laws.

Although it goes back to the French Revolution where people challenged the Catholic Church's wealth and power, laïcité was established more formally in the 1880s through education laws that secularized public schools and unified many regions of France. The official Law of Separation, adopted in 1905, meant that the French Republic would not fund religious institutions, though it would recognize the freedom of religion generally.

In France, laïcité has a very real meaning in people's daily lives and how they understand themselves.

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