PRESS RELEASE: France – On the brink of a new era of state-sponsored Islamophobia


Islamic Human Rights Commission

12 July 2010

PRESS RELEASE: France – On the brink of a new era of state-sponsored Islamophobia and anti-Muslim racism

On Tuesday July 13, the French National Assembly will vote on a Bill banning the wearing of the so-called “burka” (or face veil) in public.  The Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), which has monitored the situation of Muslims in France since before the banning of head coverings in French schools in 2004, is now warning that a vote in favour of the Bill would herald a “new era of state sponsored Islamophobia and anti-Muslim racism,” and that French Muslims are “increasingly insecure about their freedom to practice their religion in their own country.”

The Bill, which is proposed by France’s right-wing government, would impose a total ban on the wearing of the Muslim women’s head-dress in public.  Women seen wearing it will be ordered by police to remove it, and arrested if they refuse to do so.  They would then be subject to a €150 fine, or forced to attend a “citizenship course” to be re-educated on French values.  Men accused of forcing women to cover their faces will face a year’s imprisonment or a €30,000 fine.  If the Bill is passed, as is likely, considering that left-wing opposition parties have supported it, the law would come into effect early next year.

Proposing the Bill at the beginning of the National Assembly debate on it on 6 July, French justice minister Michèle Alliot-Marie insisted that it was not targeted at Muslim women specifically, and that it has nothing to do with security and religion, saying that it purely an issue of “public order,” “dignity,” “equality,” “transparency” and “republican values.”   

Such pious words, however, are entirely undermined by the tone of the debate, in which the “threat” posed to French society by “Islamic fundamentalism” has been the main point raised to justify the Bill, and the details of the proposed law, which go even further than the recommendations of Parliamentary Commission on the issue, which reported in January.

The IHRC is particularly concerned because of the increasing Islamophobia and discrimination faced by French Muslims.  Although the tiny minority of women who choose to cover their faces have faced the greatest problems since the issue became a matter of debate, other Muslims have also been attacked and made to feel unwelcome in public institutions such as hospitals.  

Various NGOs have highlighted cases in which Muslim women have been removed from their own wedding ceremonies, refused permission to enter banks, or denied service in shops, even if they have only been wearing headscarves rather than face coverings. There have been numerous incidents of Islamophobic graffiti scrawled on Muslim graves and buildings.  In an even more serious incident in April, 30 bullets were fired at a mosque in the southern city of Istres.

Critics of the Bill have also pointed out that it in breach of the fundamental rights of French citizens, including Article 10 of the Declarations of the Rights of Man in the French constitution, which states “No one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views, provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law;” and Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”

Massoud Shadjareh, Chairman of the IHRC, said on July 12: “Since the banning of headscarves in French schools in 2004, increasing numbers of young French Muslim women have already been forced to forfeit their right to education and work.  The constant and increasing attacks on French Muslims are making them feel increasingly insecure.  Nobody anywhere should be forced to choose between practicing their faith and remaining in their own country.  

“The passage of this Bill is likely increase pressure on some of the most vulnerable and deprived people in French society, as a direct result of the policies being pursued by the government of a supposedly liberal and democratic country. In the name of defending ‘French values’, the Sarkozy government is depriving its own citizens of their fundamental human rights.  The country is now on the brink of new era of state-sponsored Islamophobia and anti-Muslim racism.”

For more information please contact the Press Office on (+44) 20 8904 4222 or (+44) 208 904 4222 or (+44)7958 522196, or email: [ENDS]


The Islamic Human Rights Commission is an NGO in special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

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