Doha Debates– Don't settle for a Divided World
Podcast / May 05 2021

Does French secularism promote freedom or stoke Islamophobia?

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In this episode, host Nelufar Hedayat examines France’s laïcite or “secularism” laws, which discourage religious involvement in public life.

First she speaks about experiences wearing the hijab in Western Europe with members of Collectif Les 100 Diplômées, a Belgian group that supports Muslim women. Then French lawmaker Aurore Bergé  discusses why she believes that restricting where the hijab can be worn is an act of feminism. Finally, award-winning filmmaker Deeyah Khan talks about her experiences as a prominent Muslim woman, and her frustrations over regulating Muslim attire.

FULL TRANSCRIPT

Note: We encourage you to listen to the audio if you are able, as it includes emotion not captured by the transcript. Please check the corresponding audio before using any quotes.

[PERCUSSIVE MUSIC]

NELUFAR HEDAYAT, HOST:
This is Course Correction, a podcast from Doha Debates. I’m Nelufar Hedayat, and in this season, we’re focusing on polarization. In each episode, I explore a topic that’s dividing us. I talk to people with a range of perspectives on an issue, and I try to challenge myself to understand positions that aren’t necessarily comfortable for me. Today, we’re going to tackle an issue that over time I’ve had every view under the sun about — and it seems like the rest of the world has too.

NEWS CLIP WITH AMERICAN MAN SPEAKING:
Dearborn Heights Police Department finds itself in the crosshairs of a lawsuit tonight after a Muslim woman said she was forced to remove her religious headdress when she was arrested.

NEWS CLIP WITH NEW ZEALAND WOMAN SPEAKING:
The New Zealand police has formally introduced the hijab into the official uniform to encourage more Muslim women to join the police force.

NEWS CLIP WITH BRITISH MAN SPEAKING:
The debate over the veil, Islam and secularism in France has kicked off once again, with one journalist even comparing the hijab to a Nazi uniform. So is this really about head coverings or…

NELUFAR: There is so much shouting, so many views and sensitivities that need to be taken into account. Today, we’re looking at how religion plays out in public life, and what happens when governments get involved with women’s bodies. For me, it’s personal, and it relates to Islam, my faith, which informs my identity as a British Muslim woman and how I choose to display that outwardly. Later in the show, we’re going to challenge a French lawmaker who describes herself as a feminist but advocates for laws restricting what Muslim girls can wear in public.

WOMAN WITH FRENCH ACCENT:
I don’t understand how you can fight for women’s rights, how you can fight for emancipation and freedom and think that wearing a hijab is a way to get your freedom.

NELUFAR: And I’ll confront my own views with award-winning filmmaker Deeyah Khan after a revelation in the French Senate.

NELUFAR: How to not get emotional about this as a Muslim woman?

DEEYAH KHAN:
The reason it’s exhausting is because I find it to be one more step in a succession of steps that are taken to limit and curtail the lives and behaviors and choices of women.

NELUFAR: But before we get into any of that, let’s get some terms straight.

[PERCUSSIVE MUSIC]

NELUFAR: A lot of today’s discussion is going to focus on modest dressing practices by Muslim people when appearing in front of the other sex outside of their immediate family. For women, there are different kinds of coverings, from a simple headscarf that is draped loosely on the hair, all the way to a burqa, which covers a woman’s entire body and only leaves a mesh screen for the eyes. But for today’s program, we’re going to focus on the hijab that covers people’s hair, head and chest. It’s worn by millions of Muslim women across the globe and comes in many different forms.

HIJAB COMMERCIAL:
Get to know the colors that you love, the shapes that you love, the styles that you love. What we really want is for the customer to just feel very confident as a hijab-wearing woman.

NELUFAR: As for me, I don’t wear the headscarf or solely modest clothing. It’s complicated, but that’s what I want to delve into with today’s episode, because shockingly, some of the world’s oldest democracies have either already passed laws, or are currently trying to restrict forms of Islamic attire. Though I don’t wear it, I have friends and family that do, and I fully support these women’s choices, and their many, many different reasons for wearing it.

WOMAN WITH BELGIAN ACCENT:
The hijab is part of one of my identities. The other identities I have is being from Belgium, being a woman, being trained as an engineer. What I am is a mixture of all.

WOMAN WITH BELGIAN ACCENT:
It’s parts of my Muslim identity, and I’m really proud of it — is really part of me.

WOMAN WITH BELGIAN ACCENT:
For me, the hijab is one of the ways that I express my values and it’s also a way for me to express my personality.

NELUFAR: The voices you just heard are Fatima Zahra Younsi, Sarah Boughanem and Ihsane Haouach. All three belong to a group known as Collectif Les 100 Diplômées, which in English is the 100 Graduates Collective. It’s a Belgian organization that helps young hijab-wearing professionals who face discrimination. I reached them in Brussels this past March. All three told me they see wearing the hijab as part of their identity and most importantly, one they’ve chosen for themselves. And Sarah points out that the hijab can also highlight individuality.

SARAH BOUGHANEM:
The beauty is that every woman can express herself with the hijab, the new colors, the new things we do have. When I see a Danish hijabi, she won’t look like a Belgian one and the Moroccan one won’t look like the American one. And that, oh, that’s very beautiful because it really has a big expression.

NELUFAR: And just as varied as the materials are the choices Muslim women make on how and when to wear the hijab. As Ihsane told me, real equality for women can only come when everyone respects those choices, and by everyone, that includes other Muslims.

IHSANE HAOUACH:
And so I remember when I was a bit struck by the different definitions, and that I recognize some of my cousins versus their world. They wore the hijab but when they got married — and it was a mixed married man, woman — they removed it and the other 200 men that were there, and they had no problem with it. And this is also part of the acceptance of what other people do with themselves. You don’t need to judge them. You do what you want with yourself and with your life and you let the other do what they want. And this is the real freedom and the spirit of liberty and the real respect.

NELUFAR: So rather than being a restrictive part of their lives, Ihsane, Fatima and Sarah see it as a way of expressing themselves. And frankly, I trust them. They are the women wearing them. They should know.

For them, it is not, as some have claimed, an outward demonstration of being brainwashed into following an oppressive patriarchal system. And let’s get real here. Islam is not the only religion accused of male chauvinism. Fatima says this misunderstanding by people outside of her faith is something she’s encountered before. Take this interaction she once had with a teacher.

FATIMA ZAHRA YOUNSI:
She told me, “OK, why do you want to wear hijab,” etc.? I was like, “Yeah, it’s my choice.” But then she said the generation before us put so much energy to get women more free, and it’s their way of seeing freedom. It’s not ours.

NELUFAR: It’s so mysterious to me, so much misunderstanding in one little instance. I mean, really, it’s remarkable, if you think about it. They may as well be speaking different languages. Muslim people in Western Europe sometimes find themselves caught in the middle of a false choice between being independent women and a faithful follower of Islam. As Ihsane explained, this misconception is especially prevalent in France, where she says some women conflate their own long historical struggle with unjust laws imposed on them by the Catholic Church.

IHSANE: For France, the revolution was launched to watch the religion the Catholic Church was abusing, and they had all the power. So they had to fight against the church in order to have some rights. And so there was an association between religion and oppression.

NELUFAR: And this legacy’s felt even today. Many in the country still feel uncomfortable with outward expressions of faith, like the hijab. In 1789, the French Revolution began with attacks on religious corruption. This helps explain why in France, the notion of laïcité or secularism is so well ingrained into the French psyche and their literal definition of freedom, a freedom from religion itself. About a decade ago, under the banner of liberation and freedom, the French government outlawed the wearing of full face veils in public, but not the hijab.

NEWS CLIP WITH AMERICAN MAN SPEAKING:
The French Senate today voted overwhelmingly to approve the so-called burqa ban. Basically, it’s a ban on any face covering veil, 246 to one, with about 100 senators not voting at all.

NELUFAR: There’s also been a ban on all conspicuous religious symbols in public schools, such as the hijab or the yarmulke, a head covering worn by Jews. Public sector employees are also restricted in what religious symbols they’re allowed to wear. And as we’ll hear later, there’s a push to take things further as part of a new separatism bill.

[PERCUSSIVE MUSIC]

NELUFAR: It would be naive to say that individual freedoms being more important than religious self-expression is the sole driving force behind the laïcité movement in France. Some claim it’s a security issue, that head coverings could somehow prevent terrorists from being identified. There’s also simply a swell of Islamophobia among some right-wing nationalists, who think that to be French means you have to forgo wearing your religious attire. This connection between all French Muslims and the perceived threat of any one of them being terrorists makes me, and should make you, really uncomfortable.
Phew… There’s a lot of heat and emotion in this debate and some have approached it with bigotry and hate, others with notions of fraternity and justice. For today’s challenging interview, I want to try and understand the views of someone who genuinely feels these laws not only benefit France, but French Muslims as well. That’s why I wanted to speak to Aurore Bergé. She’s a member of the French parliament and a close ally of French President Emmanuel Macron.

Macron, we should note, has been in hot water for his own statements about Islam, at one point saying it was a religion in crisis. His comments, along with his push to strengthen laïcité laws, has sparked backlash. Some majority Muslim countries have spoken out against Macron, saying he’s perpetuating Islamophobic ideas in order to appeal to the votes of some who are to the right of his party.

NEWS CLIP WITH WOMAN SPEAKING:
Calls to boycott French products intensify across the Islamic world. The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has called for the boycott of French products, while reiterating that Emmanuel Macron needed a mental check.

NELUFAR: French women tend to agree.

ARCHIVAL AUDIO OF WOMAN SPEAKING:
So I’m French and I live in France and I’m just so tired of seeing Islamophobia everywhere in France and no one talks about it.

ARCHIVAL AUDIO OF WOMAN SPEAKING:
Why is it important that we do this? Why do they say that they’re not oppressed, but we feel like they’re oppressed?

ARCHIVAL AUDIO OF WOMAN SPEAKING:
As a French Muslim woman, I am exhausted and angry to see once again the policing of my beliefs, my choices and my body.

NELUFAR: Bergé has been in the center of much of this debate. She serves on the Committee on Cultural Affairs and Education. And we should be clear, Bergé is not Muslim. She sees herself as someone who fights for equality and freedom for all. When we spoke this past February, she was adamant that laïcité was meant to empower women, not shame them.

NELUFAR: So, Aurore. Thank you so much for joining me. Can you tell me when you started to really critically think about the hijab and why you think this is an important place where you should have your perspective heard and respected?

AURORE BERGÉ:
Well, because I believe in emancipation and freedom, as I told you, and I don’t understand how you can fight for women’s rights, how you can fight for emancipation and freedom, and think that wearing a hijab is a way to get your freedom.

NELUFAR: If tomorrow, the hijab, the burqa, everything, the niqab, is all banned in France, how will France prosper?

AURORE: I’m not saying that we need a law to ban the hijab, we need a law regarding the burqa because it’s also a security issue. Because you’re not able to recognize the people you have in front of you. If you have someone just at the front of the school who wants to get their child and you don’t know who she is or he is. And I think burqa is, of course, a feminism issue, you have to be able to see the face, to see the eyes of the people in front of you. So I’m not saying now that we need a law to ban hijab, but I think we need to be able to fight for every woman who doesn’t want to wear it.

NELUFAR: OK, here’s an important distinction, and one where I agree with the rule that women should be allowed to express themselves in public any way they want. Where we diverge is on the rights of minors, and whether parents get to decide how they want their children to dress or even if kids get to decide that for themselves. And where we really, really diverge is whether the state should have any role at all to play in that.

AURORE: Well, I think the issue is different. If you’re regarding children and if you’re regarding women. How could you impose to wear a hijab to just a girl of 5, 6 or 7 years old? I don’t get the point. What will be her liberty?

NELUFAR: Huh? Five-year-olds? That’s not common practice. Most girls don’t wear the hijab until they hit puberty. I wonder if banning a thing is ever a good way to tell someone that they are free, if that thing doesn’t harm them or anyone else around them, for that matter. Aurore is trying to protect Muslim children from their own parents. We should note Aurore proposed a law in the National Assembly that would ban the hijab for girls in public, which did not pass, and that puts her to the right of Macron. But despite all this, I found that there were some fundamental areas where Aurore and I agree: laws should be crafted to foster inclusion and not exclusion. To that end, I wondered if she was concerned that many on the far right also support laïcité.

NELUFAR: How do you, as a politician who cherishes laïcité, remove it from the grasp of the right?

AURORE: You’re right, because they’re not fighting for secularism. They’re not fighting for laïcité. They are fighting against Muslims. And that’s not at all the same point of view.

NELUFAR: Did you hear that? It’s subtle, but it sent my mind into a tailspin when I heard her say it. For better or worse, Aurore is fighting for the rights of Muslim women and against the loud, hateful voices from the right of French politics. Aurore is asking for the Muslim community to give some ground in order to keep away the harmful, xenophobic aspirations of the far right in her country. She’s claiming Frenchness as the core of all of their identities is the way to quell tensions on all sides. She really, truly and deeply believes this. I don’t.

AURORE: France holds today is the largest Muslim community in Europe. We are a welcoming land for over a century. And that’s the reason why I refuse to say that we would have an Islamophobic way to think. If Muslims peacefully observing the faith and an Islamist minority upholding a radical political projects, and they want people to be scared by the Muslim people. But the first victim of the Islamist minority are the Muslims in France.

Since 2012 in France, more than 260 people of all backgrounds have died in France in terrorist attacks. First, you had the Jewish school and Jewish young, very young people. Then you had the Charlie Hebdo headquarters. Then you had the Bataclan concert hall, then you had the streets of Nice, then you had churches. And it was just incredible for us. And that’s why we are sometimes feeling so lonely to be able to fight for our values and our common values.

NELUFAR: Yes, common values. I’m so sorry that you feel that way, that is — to feel so lonely. This is hard, this is hard. This is a hard conversation because, you know, I’m Afghan. I was born in Kabul. I had to leave my country because of the same people that terrorize your country.

AURORE: I believe we have to remain a country, welcoming country. I believe we have to remain as a country that you described with liberty, equality, fraternity, and when your own citizens are turning against you, are turning against your values, are attacking you, are becoming terrorists, you have to, of course, try to understand what you failed because of it. And you have to fight, and as you said, we have the same enemies and we have to fight together, and maybe it’s not the same way because we don’t have the same culture. We don’t have the same history. But we have the same fights. And we have to win this fight together.

NELUFAR: Very, very powerful words. The reason I fled Afghanistan when I was a baby wasn’t because of Islam. It was because of men. I want you to know that. And the other thing that I want to say to you is be careful that — please, please be gentle with these women who you were trying to emancipate and free. Please know that all day long we are told what to do with our bodies, what is ugly and what is pretty and what is fat and what is thin and what is acne and what is good hair. Please don’t be part of the system that tells women what to do with their bodies because that, if you will agree with me, is madness. It is not freedom.

AURORE: Well, it’s really difficult to answer to that because I didn’t have to flee my own country, so I can’t understand what you had to go through. But I have the same fears that maybe in France in several years we will maybe and unfortunately face the same issues. And I think Europe is failing this issue, because we are not able to have common values regarding women. And I think it’s maybe one of the issues we will have to deal with. And I don’t want my country in several years to have to choose between two extremism, between the far right and between Islamism.

NELUFAR: I really now feel like I understand you in a way that I didn’t before we started talking.

AURORE: Yes.

NELUFAR: My prayer, my hope, Aurore, is that you do not get lost as you are being pulled. Please, please think of these — so many times in history you and me can pick where a woman’s body is the battleground. Please, please, will you promise me —

AURORE: And the men’s battleground.

NELUFAR: Yeah. Exactly! The male gaze dictates so much of this. In fact, if, you know, this is not a conversation we would have if it’s not about the male gaze. This is why in Islam we wear the hijab, and this is why in the Western world — the Western world does not like the hijab in any of the countries. So I see that this is a problem of feminism.

And for me, just like you would never, never leave your feminism at the door to your office, for some Muslim women, they can never leave their faith at the door to their office, if it’s a public office or a public place or a school. So I just really, really hope you think about that just as, as a Muslim woman to a French lawmaker. And I just hope you listen to that. I hope you hear me.

AURORE: Oh, well, I just want to thank you because I know our difficulties as principle —we are dealing with are very difficult to understand when you’re not French. And I really appreciate the conversation we had, because I think at the end of the day, we are both fighting for women’s rights and I think it’s the main issue we have.

NELUFAR: Aurore Bergé, thank you so much for talking to me on Course Correction.

AURORE: Thank you so much.

NELUFAR: That was Aurore Bergé, a French lawmaker.

[PERCUSSIVE MUSIC]

NELUFAR: Just a quick point of clarification that, while the so-called separatism bill that Macron’s party introduced in February would further tighten restrictions on the hijab for citizens who work with the French government, it would not restrict girls from wearing the hijab in public. When the measure was debated in the Senate, some conservative lawmakers added an amendment that banned minors from wearing it in public. But most French experts believe the amendment has no chance of passing into law. Still, just the fact that it passed the Senate raises concerns for people who value civil rights. In fact, critics have called it an attack on French citizens’ human rights. Think about it. Almost all of the heinous terror attacks in France have been committed by men. And this is a proposed ban on women wearing the hijab. So go figure…

In a broad sense, I believe it’s a crackdown against the Muslim minority. And this hijab amendment, in my opinion, is an instance where politicians are trying to play with populist ideals and solving problems that don’t exist. And not the really hard ones that do.

For politicians motivated by getting and maintaining power, dealing with dividing issues like poverty, ghettoization, inequality, racism, heck, sexism even, are hard problems to solve. It’s far easier to ban the hijab than ask how to address housing inequality, say, and a frail education system, isn’t it? I’m not alone in being ticked off about this bill and feeling like it pulls people apart rather than bringing them together. You should never have to hide your identity to fit into your country.

After the hijab ban amendment passed in the French Senate, Muslim women across the world began chiming in with their disgust. The hashtag #HandsOffMyHijab began trending, and people were posting their reactions on social media.

AUDIO OF PERSON DISMAYED AT HIJAB BAN:
The proposed French ban on hijabs will force minors to undress themselves, to take off their hijabs and expose the parts of their body that they don’t want to expose.

AUDIO OF PERSON DISMAYED AT HIJAB BAN:
Yeah, this ban only proves the French government knows absolutely nothing about Islam.

AUDIO OF PERSON DISMAYED AT HIJAB BAN:
My dear, wearing the hijab does not equal a person. Get it into your head that wearing a piece of cloth is the same autonomy as wearing a bikini.

NELUFAR: Muslim women are tired of being told what’s best for them, either from within their religious communities or from the country they live in. For this broader perspective on what it means to be a modern Muslim woman, I reached out to Deeyah Khan. She’s a two-time Emmy Award-winning and twice BAFTA-nominated documentarian who explores topics like extremism, white nationalism and honor killings.

She’s also the founder of Sisterhood magazine, which promotes women of Muslim heritage. She herself has an interesting background. She’s Norwegian, from Pakistani and Afghani descent, currently living in the U.K. Just before our interview was to begin, I was scrolling through TikTok and Twitter to see what Muslim women were saying about the Senate’s proposed hijab ban. And yeah, it hit me like a ton of bricks.

NELUFAR: My first question was supposed to be, “What are your thoughts?” But I want to know if you’re angry. Are you angry about this?

DEEYAH: I am. I am angry, but I’m really disappointed and I’m a bit tired. The reason it’s exhausting is because I find it to be one more step in a succession of steps that are taken to limit and curtail the lives and behaviors and choices of women. On one hand, countries like that can stand there and be up in arms about, for example, the compulsory veiling of women in Iran. Yet they don’t somehow want to admit or see that they are doing exactly the same thing in saying that you are absolutely not allowed to choose what you want to wear. So I don’t really see the difference between France’s decision to ban it and Iran’s decision to make it compulsory. To me, that’s one and the same thing.

NELUFAR: Why are men so obsessed with the hijab? And the reason I say this is because the Senate in France is predominantly made up of white men. The laws that have been proposed have some women who think that it’s a feminist thing to do to tell women not to wear the hijab, but the majority of the laws around the world that have been designed to allow people to wear the hijab or not or force them to wear or not, are men. Why are men obsessed with whether women wear the hijab or not?

DEEYAH: Men have been obsessed with women’s bodies and controlling women’s behavior and women’s choices for forever. So this is nothing new. That’s what I mean, is that this is one step in multiple steps that have been taken throughout history to limit what women can and cannot do, to control women’s behavior. And why do they need to control women’s behavior? I think because they fear their own relationship to women, their own views of women. I think they’re afraid of what it means if women get to fully occupy themselves and occupy the space that they’re in, including their body. You know, on one hand, there was no limit on the age of consent for sex in France right up until recently, just very recently, they’ve now said to 15 years old.

So you can be 15 years old and decide who gets to be in your body and not. But you have to be 18 to make the decision, to be mature enough to make the decision about what piece of cloth you put on your head or not. What decision do you think you’d rather your daughter or your sister or your fellow woman gets to make at age 15? Is it that she can have sex, or is it that she can decide what she wants to put on her head? So the hypocrisy and the double standards in this, and this kind of pretend we care about women and we care about young girls is… I don’t buy it because it’s just not true. The reality of this is yet again, politics is playing out on the bodies of women and in this case, specifically Muslim women.

NELUFAR: A few years ago, my 18-year-old, 19-year-old cousin decided to wear the full Islamic dress, an abaya, a hijab and so on. And there was a wedding. There was a wedding, Deeyah. And her mom was like, “You cannot wear the hijab. You will be the only one of our entire generation to put it on willingly. And you can’t go, if you’re going to wear it, you can’t go.” And I said to my auntie, “If you are going to stop her from exercising her right to do what she wants, then I’m not going because I cannot stand by and let you police her body.” And that’s in my own family.

So when the state apparatus does this, it’s very menacing. Can you talk to me a little bit about the differences between a person making a choice to allow their daughter or son to wear the hijab and the government dictating that?

DEEYAH: I don’t understand what it is that is so damaging to French society and for the French sense of self that a young girl or woman chooses to put a headscarf on her head. I just don’t understand the premise in the first place because I think the premise is actually something else. And so when it comes to the personal side of it, I think what people sort of miss the point on is that there is no one Muslim community and there is no one way to be a Muslim. There are multiple ways how the Islamic faith expresses itself, and it expresses itself in as many different ways as there are Muslims and all sorts of variations in between.

NELUFAR: Now, a large part of the bill is to fight against what they call the inferiorization of women. So much is being left unsaid in what this bill is.

DEEYAH: France has a long history of othering Muslims, of treating Muslims as if they’re a problem and a disease within their own country. And I’ve done a lot of work around radicalization and around violent extremism of all variations, including when our young Muslims become drawn into movements like that. And I think to tie a woman’s hijab to radicalization or extremism is just utter, utter nonsense. It is not something that I ever came across in a sort of clear way at all. What I did come across is this sort of, if we’re just looking at the French aspect now, you know, the French colonialism was in and of itself justified through claiming that it had a mission of civilizing the people that it came across.

And I think that this sort of arrogant mentality is still visible in this kind of insistence of the French government that they know better what a Muslim teenager needs than themselves, or what their life needs to be than themselves. And I think the levels of poverty, the levels of racism, the levels of violence and financial challenges that large Muslim populations in France suffer, I think if they would even begin to address any of that, then they start getting closer to what is it that radicalizes young Muslims? What is it that entices some of them into extremist groups?

When you grow up seeing your parents and people who look like you, consistently humiliated, consistently degraded, consistently spoken and treated as if they are second-class citizens, as if you are a problem, it actually does do something to you. It tells you how your country views you. It tells you that your country does not view you as one of them. The French kind of insistence on “these people need to be like us,” rather than sort of accepting and…

NELUFAR: That’s a one-way relationship as well, Deeyah. It’s such a one-way thing.

DEEYAH: Integration is what a lot of these people sort of try to speak about and try to form all of these types of decisions around that. Integration is a two-way street. Integration, if that is something that is important. What is integration? Integration is about a relationship, it is about human relationships. And so in these human relationships, if you’ve got one side saying, be like me, speak like me, you can’t look like me, but do everything that I do, eat like me, dress like me or else, or else. Right? So how would we normally class that kind of a relationship? That is an abusive relationship, that is not a relationship of equals, that is not a two-way relationship of, I give a little, you give a little. I always get really frustrated because this is a tendency across so many European countries and not just France, where people keep talking about, you know, these people just don’t want to integrate. They blow this, this, that and the other. And, you know, we lack leadership across all our European countries where we can have our leaders articulate the need to find a way to coexist in a way that is dignified.

NELUFAR: Deeyah Khan, twice Emmy Award-winning journalist, documentarian, activist, writer, publisher, I mean, I can go on and on and on. Thank you for talking to me, and thank you more than anything for helping me channel the rage into resolution. I am now resolving to try and be part of the discourse in the discussion, and care in a way that’s useful and not just be angry. So thank you for helping me deal with that.

DEEYAH: Thank you for doing this, and for speaking with me. And for you speaking in the way that you do. It’s so profoundly important. Thank you.

NELUFAR: Throughout the series, I’ve tried to look past my own views and be open to persuasion with people I disagree with. That was particularly tough this time, since I disagree with Aurore Bergé’s perspective that banning the hijab for girls is a good thing for French Muslim people. Yet after having had that difficult conversation with her, I understand she feels stuck between a rock and a hard place, fighting for her country’s very identity.

AURORE: I don’t want my country to have to choose between two extremism, between the far right and between Islamism.

[PIANO MUSIC]

NELUFAR: Though she doesn’t believe laïcité policies are rooted in Islamophobia, I can see a different connection, but I can still respect that she comes to her conclusion because she truly believes she’s doing something to empower women. Just as I truly believe that behind this laïcité debate lies a bigger one about power, who has it and whose neck their boot is on.

Nationalism, identity, religion, our bodies, choice. The most delicate, highly considered approach is needed when deciding to police or legislate these things. But after speaking to my guests on the show, one thing is clear. Yet again, women are left picking up the pieces, defending or protesting against the intention and pursuit of men, telling them what they can and cannot do.
In desperately trying to be colorblind and fighting off the zealots of the French far right, you would be correct in worrying about how far well-meaning politicians, feminists and fellow citizens are willing to lurch to the right in order to fight it off. It’s disturbing to me, how much Western democracies are choosing to legislate on women’s bodies and choices. We all know that a community thrives when we are all accepted as part of it in every shape, color and form that we take.

[PIANO MUSIC]

That’s our episode. What did you think? Do you have an experience with the hijab you want to share or feel strongly about church and state issues? If so, tweet your comments to me. I’m @Nelufar. I love hearing from you. Or you can tweet us @DohaDebates. And here’s just one more little request. Please write us a review of this show if you can. It really helps spread the word about what we’re trying to do.

Course Correction is written and produced by me, Nelufar Hedayat. Editorial and production assistance comes from Foreign Policy with producers Sarah Kendal, Rosie Julin and Zamone Perez. The managing director of FP Studios is Rob Sachs. The show is brought to you by Doha Debates, which is a production of Qatar Foundation. Our executive producers are Japhet Weeks, Amjad Atallah and Jigar Mehta. Join us for the next episode of Course Correction wherever you get your podcasts.