French far right leader Marine Le Pen has confirmed her call to outlaw Jewish skullcaps and Muslim veils in all public places on Saturday, a day after her statement regarding a ban on all religious symbols triggered widespread controversy in the country.
When asked, on Friday, if a ban would include the Jewish yarmulke, the leader of the far-right National Front (FN) party said: "Obviously if we ban the veil, we would ban the kippa in public places."
Religious symbols are currently banned only in state schools. A separate law bans the Muslim face veil in public places.
Speaking on the topic to French television on Saturday, Le Pen said she had "a broader view of secularity than our current legislation,” adding: "Jewish skullcaps are obviously not a problem in our country” but France has to “ban them in the name of equality.”
“The situation in our country has changed. We used to have a fragile balance between religions, but massive immigration has changed that. Veils and jilbabs are putting us under pressure. France is a victim of sectarian political groups due to the ruling parties’ incapacity to deal with the problem,” she said, adding: “What would people say if I’d only asked to ban Muslim clothing? They’d burn me as a Muslim hater.”
Regarding her call for a ban on Jewish skullcaps, the far-right leader said that she was "asking our Jewish compatriots to make this small effort, this little sacrifice probably” for the sake of equality. “I’m sure a big part of them are ready to make that little sacrifice,” she said.
Le Pen's statements came as French Muslims were outraged over the U.S-made anti-Islamic movie "The Innocence of Muslims," which Muslims worldwide said was offensive to Islam, and following the recent publication of caricatures mocking Prophet Mohammad in French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. Many Muslims were angered by the government’s decision to ban their protests.
French commentators said Le Pen chose to talk now precisely because of the great tension recent events have caused, with Richard Prasquier, head of the Jewish umbrella group Crif saying Le Pen's was "the kind of statement that aims to ignite conflicts within our country.”
Le Pen is “a secular fanatic just as others are religious fanatics. I’m obviously opposed to both," Prasquier added.
Le Pen’s initial interview came out in newspaper le Monde, just as several French Jewish leaders were attended a ceremony inaugurating a memorial in the Drancy World War II concentration camp, alongside French President Francois Hollande.
“Everything that tears us apart, opposes people and divides us is awkward. We must apply the rules that already exist, the only rules we know, the rules of the Republic and of secularity,” Hollande said.
France’s Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim criticized Le Pen for associating the skullcap and the Muslim veil, saying: “Jews have never tried to impose anyone to wear the skullcap, I don’t see why [Marine Le Pen] has made such an injunction. Mixing up the tradition of the skullcap and the veil only generates more confusion in people’s minds. I deeply deplore her statement.”
Meanwhile, Muslim officials were also angered by the far right leader’s statement, with Mohammad Moussaoui, head of the Muslim umbrella group CFCM, saying that “Those who want to ban the veil and skullcap want France to become a dictatorship."
France's parliament has already passed a law banning “ostentatious religious signs”, skullcaps and Muslim veils, from public schools, city halls and State institutions and a second one banning the full veil from all public areas. Yet French politicians said Le Pen isn’t defending secularity but attacking religion.
“Secularity is not about eradicating religion from society,” said UMP leader Jean-François Copé who said his own party had battled against religious extremists when it was in power. “We proved this by banning the burqa from all public places.”
None in Le Pen’s party has openly criticized her statements.
Gilbert Collard, one of the National Front’s two MPs, said: “I don’t have anything against skullcaps. It’s not as ostentatious as the veil but I understand that she took that stand for the sake of equality."
Le Pen’s father and former party leader Jean-Marie said the suggestion was “not essential” but “wise”.
For several years Marine Le Pen had tried to show a less extremist and anti-Semitic image of her party, focusing her attacks on so-called Muslim extremists. Yet anti-racist groups say she has never stopped promoting hatred and Christian supremacy.
“She doesn’t believe in equality, she believes that some communities, Catholic extremists, should dominate others. That’s not secularity.” Benjamin Abtan, President of the Grassroots anti-racist movement told Haaretz. “This statement is not a turn in her strategy, but perhaps her extremism is even more obvious now. Jews are suffering more and more from anti-Semitism, we’ve seen it in the protests against the movie – even here in Paris. yet instead of condemning that anti-Semitism, she’s made this outrageous statement.”
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