French president Francois Hollande said last week he would call for a law banning women who wear the Muslim hijab headscarf from working with children.
This followed two weeks in which most of France’s political and media establishment egged him on—including, shamefully, sections of the far left.
The renewed focus on Islam has been a welcome distraction for Hollande, the Socialist Party leader elected last year to replace reviled right winger Nicolas Sarkozy. His government had been under fire over its budget cuts and attacks on workers’ rights.
Judges last month overturned the sacking of a woman who wore a hijab to work at the private Baby?Loup creche in 2008. The court ruled that it amounted to religious discrimination.
Hollande’s interior minister Manuel Valls immediately condemned the ruling saying, “It is essential that the republic fights the veil that prevents women from being what they are.”
Both main parts of the radical left coalition Front de Gauche also defended the bosses’ right to sack Muslims.
The Left Party founded by Front de Gauche leader Jean-Luc Melenchon was sharply critical of Valls—for not backing his righteous words up with action. “To govern is to act,” said its stern statement.
There is now a heated debate inside the left between those who want to defend Muslim workers’ religious freedom and those who would rather side with the state in defence of “secularism”.
The left’s paralysis on the question has allowed Islamophobic ideas to become mainstream.
A recent poll showed 84 percent of French people want all women who work in public places to be banned from wearing the hijab.
Islamophobia has fed the growth of the far right, including the fascist Front National.
Olivier Besancenot of the New Anticapitalist Party condemned Hollande for “opening a new ‘debate’ that for months will just feed more Islamophobia” while attacking public services.