Faced with criticism, Le Pen allies tone down rhetoric on proposed hijab ban
PARIS (Reuters) – A planned hijab ban if French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen is elected would come “little by little” and would be determined by lawmakers, her allies said on Monday of a move critics and allies alike said would be hard to implement.
The remarks, on one of the main issues of dispute in French politics in recent years, marked a shift in tone as the far-right core of Le Pen’s programme comes under closer scrutiny less than a week ahead of the final presidential vote.
Louis Aliot, the far-right mayor of Perpignan and former life companion of Le Pen, said in an interview with France Inter radio that the hijab ban was one of several political tools to fight “Islamism”, but that its implementation needed to come “progressively”.
The ban should target state-run services first, he said, before being widened “little by little”. “There will be a debate in parliament and then, the choice will be made,” he said.
Another Le Pen ally, David Rachline, the mayor of the Mediterranean town of Frejus, also on Monday appeared to soften his stance. “We don’t want to attack people… all those women wearing a hijab are not Islamists”, he said.
Le Pen has previously said that the hijab could not be viewed as the sign of a person’s religious belief, but was an “Islamist uniform” that needed to be banned from French public space.
She has in recent years moved to soften her image, shifting her focus away from identity issues towards purchasing power, the number one priority for French voters, but she has not shed far-right policies from her election programme.
Issues linked to France’s Muslim population, one of the largest in Europe, have become a hot-button issue in a country that has seen a series of deadly extremist attacks in recent years.
Lawyers in France have said banning the hijab would be targeted discrimination against Muslim women and violate the French constitution.
Le Pen’s rival President Emmanuel Macron last week met a woman on the campaign trail who told him she wore the headscarf by her own choice and viewed herself as a “feminist”, to which Macron replied: “This is the best answer to all the nonsense.”
In contrast, Le Pen on Friday looked sheepish https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIBE7TdXz6U when she was approached by a woman wearing a hijab before cameras, who told her to “leave the Muslims alone”, adding: “We are French, we love this country”.
A day after the incident, Le Pen said she acknowledged that the issue was “complex”, adding that parliament would have its say on the decision and that, thanks to her suggested citizens’ referendum, any unwanted law could be revoked.
(Reporting by Tassilo Hummel; Editing by Jan Harvey)