Nationalism, Forced Assimilation, and France’s Burqa Ban

In 2004, France banned the wearing of overt religious symbols in public schools, including the burqa and nib, two headscarves worn by some Muslim women. Originally, this was done on the pretext that, because France was a secular society, religious symbols in public school and institutions offended this secularism. This 2004 law pales in comparison to France’s 2011 law forbidding women from wearing a face veil in any public setting—a law that much of the Muslim community of France sees as “forced assimilation”.

Over the past five years, the legal banning of the burqa and nib (the full veil worn by some Muslim women) has been growing in popularity throughout many parts of Europe and Canada. France, however, was the first country to enact such a law, implemented in April of 2011. Brought in under the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy, it was argued that its main goal was to bar anyone from being able to hide their identity in public. Secondly, it was said that it would help promote freedom and respect for women. Finally, the law was supposed to help everyone to integrate, which many see as the most problematic aspect of the law and reminiscent of “forced assimilation”.

Forced assimilation is a process of the pressure to religious or ethnic minority groups to culturally assimilate into an established and generally larger community. Unlike ethnic cleansing, the population is not forced to leave a certain area. Rather, the population becomes assimilated by force.

States often perceive the presence of ethnic or linguistic minorities as a danger to their own nationalism, the concept that a “people” share a common bond through race, religion, language, and culture. The latter half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century saw a rise of this kind of nationalism. Much of European history during this time can be seen as efforts to realign with this concept of “one people, one nation”.

Forced assimilation ensures that Muslims are not able to practice their faith in the open, and as a result, are not a visible threat to French nationalism and the European way of life. The policymakers in France demonstrate the attempt to forcibly assimilate them into Western society. It does not allow for religious or cultural diversity, as this diversity threatens the norms. Failure to assimilate comes at a great cost. Such Muslims are encouraged to disappear from public life. For example, approximately seventy percent of the prison population in France is Muslim, despite only accounting for ten percent of the entire population.

Ultimately, this ban on burqas can absolutely be seen as a form of forced assimilation— While white populations in the West enjoy the rights protected by the Convention, laws such as France’s burqa-ban imply that Muslims are backward and must forcibly be changed, or face the consequences. This attitude is reflected in the court, where the rights of a Muslim woman are seen as subordinate to protecting the nationalism and homogenicity of a country.

Cowger, Thomas W. “Dr. Thomas A. Bland, critic of forced assimilation.”American Indian Culture and Research Journal 16.4 (1992): 77-97.

Chrisafis, Angelique. “France’s burqa ban: Women are’effectively under house arrest.’.” The Guardian 19.11 (2011).

Nanwani, Shaira. “The Burqa Ban: An Unreasonable Limitation on Religious Freedom or a Justifiable Restriction?’,(2011).” Emory International Law Review 25: 1431.

Reyhner, Jon. “Cultural Survival vs. Forced Assimilation. The renewed war on diversity.” Cultural Survival Quarterly 25.2 (2001): 22-25.

Spohn, Ulrike. “Sisters in disagreement: The dispute among French feminists about the “Burqa Ban” and the causes of their disunity.” Journal of Human Rights 12.2 (2013): 145-164.



2 thoughts on “Nationalism, Forced Assimilation, and France’s Burqa Ban

  1. Karim Lahlou says:

    I think that banning burqas and openly being prejudiced towards certain groups is wrong. There is definitely a huge problem with acceptance/tolerance today and I hope that this issue is solved soon. I personally am not a huge fan of the burqa, but if it makes people happy/comfortable then they should be able to wear that.

  2. yzk5195 says:

    Claire, that is really unfortunate that France and other countries are banning religious wear. I can see where they are coming from, but is it really necessary? I personally feel like people should be able to practice their religions freely as long as they are not putting others at risk. I’m grateful the US doesn’t have a ban on burqas; hopefully we can keep it that way.

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