Who is welcome on the territory of the French Republic?

by Najate Zouggari

June 2009, Palais de Versailles: French president Nicolas Sarkozy declares in a major policy speech that the “burqa is not a sign of religion, it is a sign of subservience. It will not be welcome on the territory of the French republic.” Sarkozy does this while ignoring the fact that the women wearing this garment are as French as he is. In this fiercely republican discourse taking place in a monarchist palace he also declares that the burqa “is not the idea that the French republic has about a women’s dignity” while missing  another point — this “idea” about women’s dignity did not allow French women to vote until 1944. French women earned their right to vote after Turkish women, whose access to European citizenship is now denied by Sarkozy.

By extension, the ideas the French republic has about its Muslim community can be understood through the 750 euro joke of Minister Brice Hortefeux: “We always need one [Arab, Muslim]. When there’s one, that’s alright. It’s when there are a lot of them that there are problems.” With these words, he echoed the presidential “inflammatory language” against minorities and the poor: Sarkozy once referred to people living in impoverished areas “scum.” But Nadine Morano (Secretary of State for Family Affairs) asked Muslims (not the President) to speak properly by saying: “I want them to love France when they live here, to find work and not to speak in slang. They shouldn’t put their caps on back to front,” as if all Muslims in France live in suburbs, wear either a cap or a burqa, and need to be reminded that France can never be their real home.

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