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France

Far-left party reveals ‘veiled’ female candidate

Text by Tony Todd

Latest update : 2010-02-12

The veil issue has shown its face in French politics once again, after radical anti-capitalist fringe party the NPA revealed that one of its candidates (pictured) in forthcoming regional elections wears an Islamic headscarf.

Photo: Hendrik Davi

A candidate for a radical French anti-capitalist party in the forthcoming regional elections wears a headscarf as a token of her Islamic faith, something that has raised eyebrows in this rigidly secular society.

All the more so because the NPA (New Anti-capitalist Party), led by Trotskyist postman Olivier Besancenot, is a party that generates headlines for its extreme left wing position on issues including militant secularism.

Scarf-wearing Ilham Moussaid (pictured), a student and a party treasurer, is NPA candidate for the regional council of Vaucluse in southern France, Besancenot confirmed to French daily Le Figaro.

“A woman can be a feminist, can uphold secular values and wear a [Islamic] headscarf at the same time,” he told the newspaper.

A guide to the four main types of Muslim veil

The veiled meanings of a very French issue

Wearing a headscarf – as well as the wearing of other religious symbols such as crucifixes – is strictly prohibited in French public institutions such as schools.

And a cross-party parliamentary commission last month came up with a list of recommendations for a law to ban wearing the full face veil (niqab) in public places such as hospitals and on public transport.

It is a very French issue. Islamic headscarfs in France are all referred to as “voile” – meaning veil – whether or not they cover the face.

The French public dislikes veils because they are seen as the embodiment of male domination over women, as well as symbols of religious attachment in a country that clings fiercely to the principle of the separation of church and state.

But veils and headscarves are also an overt reminder that France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim population, something that makes the (often Christian) right wing uncomfortable.

Radical pragmatism of a fringe party

Making headway in the country’s deprived suburbs, notable for their large Muslim immigrant populations, could pay political dividends for the NPA, which is very much a fringe party.

The “banlieues”, Besancenot told Le Figaro, are “deserts where social associations, unions and political activity barely flourish.”

They are also places where women, some of whom wear Islamic veils, are starting to carry the torch for the NPA’s brand of militant anti-capitalist Trotskyism.

In a statement, the party said the choice to put Moussaid forward as a candidate had come after “a serious and complex debate”.

“[Moussaid] is a militant feminist, anti-capitalist and internationalist who happens to wear a headscarf for religious reasons,” the statement continues. “The NPA welcomes young people, the unemployed and wage-earners of all walks of life who hold our ideals dear. Religious faith is a private matter that should in no way be an obstacle to the NPA’s fight for its fundamental principles of secularism, feminism and anti-capitalism.”

Date created : 2010-02-03

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