“Solidarity with women wearing veils,” the protesters sang in a more significant march because of the context in which it was held and because of the debates it has brought up, that due to the capacity to convene, some 13,500 people according to a quoted count by the France Presse agency. Among the attendees, veteran leftist militants and women with hair covered by a handkerchief and bearded men were seen.
The call for the demonstration originated in a platform published on November 1 in the newspaper Liberation and signed, among others, by politicians of the radical leftist party La Francia Insumisa, by journalists such as Edwy Plenel and by prestigious university students such as the philosopher Étienne Balibar or the historian Ludivine Bantigny. Among the promoters, was the Collective against Islamophobia in France (CCIF). This organization has been accused of "communitarianism" – that is, of promoting the division of the French into ethnic or religious communities – and of proximity to the Muslim Brotherhood, which they deny.
The rostrum was based on two recent episodes. The first occurred on October 11, when a charge of the extreme right-wing National Regrouping Party demanded to remove the veil from a mother who accompanied a school group on an excursion to the headquarters of the Regional Council of the Burgundy-Franche-Comte region. The second was the attack on the Bayonne Mosque on October 28, in which two faithful were injured. “For years, the acts that point (to Muslims) have intensified: whether it is discrimination or liberticidal projects or laws, physical aggressions against women who wear the handkerchief, attacks against mosques or magnets and even assassination attempts ”, It was read in the text.
The call immediately sparked divisions. The Socialist Party was unmarked. Also some original signatories such as Yannick Jadot, the leader of Europe Ecology The Greens, or prominent members of La Francia Insumisa as Francois Ruffin.
The reason for the absence was threefold. First, the use of the word "Islamophobia." Some prefer to use expressions such as “racism against Muslims”, or others, and even claim the right to feel phobia for a religion in the abstract, be it Islam, Christianity or any other. The second reason is the criticism, in the rostrum, of the "liberticidal laws", veiled allusion to the law of 2004 that prohibited the use of ostentatious religious signs in schools and that of 2010 that prohibited carrying, in public spaces, habits that covered the face. The third reason that led several leftist politicians to mark distances was the presence among those who adhered to the manifesto after being published in Liberation of controversial people, such as a magnet that in the past justified the rape within marriage, or the central role of the CCIF in organizing the march.
At the center of the divisions, is the different reading of secularism, codified in the law of 1905, which guarantees freedom of worship and at the same time the neutrality of the Republic before religions. Some protesters in Paris claimed secularism as a protective shield against discrimination against Muslims, but the same concept has been manipulated to point to a specific religion. The demonstration, in addition to exposing the fracture of the left, also revealed the abysmal distance, on this subject, between right-wing populism (Le Pen) and left-wing populism (Melenchon).
"French and Muslims, proud of our identities," read in a banner. And in another: “Don't touch my veil. Respect my decision. No to Islamophobia. " There was some Algerian and Palestinian flag, but also women with their heads covered with a veil in the colors of the French flag.
"Sweet France / dear country of my childhood / why all these sufferings," said the sign that Mina wore, a 39-year-old woman with a veil who didn't want to give her last name because, she explained, she was a public official. The text alluded to the classic tonadilla Douce France from Charles Trenet.
“The media and politicians stigmatize us. Muslim women no longer feel free or happy as before in France. Why can't we be French as we want today? ”Said Mina. "Stop telling me that I am submissive, it is a free choice in my country, the country of my childhood, my sweet France." To the question about the reason he wears the veil, he replied: “Why not? Why couldn't I take it? I wouldn't even have to explain it. ”
42% of French Muslims have felt discriminated against at some time in their lives, according to a survey commissioned by the French Government and published this week. At the same time, the number of anti-Muslim acts dropped to one hundred in 2018, the lowest level since 2010, according to official data.