French PM calls for ban on headscarves in universities

Prime Minister Manuel Valls pictured leaving a cabinet meeting recently
Prime Minister Manuel Valls pictured leaving a cabinet meeting recently REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

French prime minister, Manuel Valls has suggested that Muslim headscarves should be banned in universities. His comments, which have cause a massive backlash in France, were made in an interview with French daily, Libération.


Already under pressure over a proposed reform of the labour laws, he said that while he believed it “should be done”, the constitution makes imposing such a ban difficult.

Socialist party divisions

However, his remarks have exposed further divisions in the ruling Socialist party with a number of his cabinet colleagues already weighing in to disagree with his comments.

“There is no need for a law on the headscarf at university…Students have every right to wear a headscarf. The headscarf is not banned in French society,” Thierry Mandon, the minister responsible for higher education minister said.

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the education minister, also disagreed with Valls and said that such a law could not be imposed on university as students who are entitled to “freedom of conscience and freedom of religion”.

“Our universities also have a lot of foreign students. Are we going to ban them access because in their culture there’s a certain type of clothing?” she said during an interview with RMC radio station.

University governors in past have consistently expressed strong opposition to any ban, saying students should be able to do as they please.

Headscarves in France

France bans the Muslim face veil in public places. Earlier this month, Valls said the headscarf was being used by some as a challenge to France's secular society.

"The veil does not represent a fashion fad, no, it's not a colour one wears, no: it is enslavement of women," he said, warning of the "ideological message that can spread behind religious symbols".

"We have to make a distinction between wearing the veil as a scarf for older women, and it as a political gesture confronting French society."

Valls was speaking at roundtable discussion on Islamism in Paris, where he warned that Salafists were "winning the ideological and cultural battle" in France, home of Europe's biggest Muslim population.

Valls is also under fire for telling Libération: “I would like us to be able to demonstrate that Islam, a great world religion and the second religion of France, is fundamentally compatible with the Republic, democracy, our values and equality between men and women.”

Asked if he meant that it is not compatible with French society he said a majority of French citizens believed that it is not.


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