Facing criticism, Le Pen allies temper rhetoric on proposed hijab ban

Marine Le Pen, candidate of France’s far-right Rassemblement national (National Rally) party in the 2022 French presidential election, speaks during a campaign rally in Avignon, France, April 14, 2022. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann/File Photo

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PARIS, April 18 (Reuters) – A planned hijab ban if French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen is elected would come “little by little” and be determined by lawmakers, her allies said on Monday of a decision that critics and allies said was difficult to implement.

The remarks, on one of the main controversial issues in French politics in recent years, marked a change in tone as the far-right core of Le Pen’s program comes under closer scrutiny less than a week before the final presidential vote.

Louis Aliot, the far-right mayor of Perpignan and former life partner of Le Pen, said in an interview with France Inter radio that the hijab ban was one of many political tools to fight “the Islamism”, but that its implementation should come “gradually”.

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The ban should first target public services, he said, before being broadened “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 Fréjus, also appeared to soften his stance on Monday. “We don’t want to attack people…not all of these hijab-wearing women are Islamists,” he said.

Le Pen previously said the hijab could not be considered a sign of a person’s religious belief, but was an “Islamist uniform” that should be banned from French public space.

She has in recent years softened her image, shifting her focus from identity issues to purchasing power, the number one priority of French voters, but she has not dropped far-right politics from her electoral platform. Read more

Issues with France’s Muslim population, one of Europe’s largest, have become a hot topic in a country that has seen a series of deadly extremist attacks in recent years. Read more

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 met a woman on the campaign trail last week who told him she wore the headscarf on her own and considered herself a “feminist”, to which Macron replied: “It’s the best answer to all nonsense.”

By contrast, Le Pen appeared sheepish on Friday when she was accosted by a hijab-wearing woman in front of the 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 recognized the issue was “complex”, adding that parliament would have a say in the decision and that, through its suggested citizens’ referendum, any unwanted legislation could be ruled out. repealed.

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Reporting by Tassilo Hummel; Editing by Jan Harvey

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