The prime minister of France stated that he would favor a ban on Muslim head scarves at French universities, a stance that has led to criticism from others within his own government.
Speaking in an interview with French newspaper Liberation, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that the head scarf is not "an object of fashion or consumption like any other," according to the Associated Press via U.S. News.
Instead, religious head scarves oppress women and make them vulnerable to extremist ideology, something Valls said France should protect Muslim women from. As a result, Valls said that outlawing head scarves in universities “should be done, but there are constitutional rules that make this ban difficult."
Others within the French government, including Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem and the junior minister for higher education, Thierry Mandon, have come out against the ban, saying it discriminates against Muslims and prevents them from practicing their religion.
“Our universities also have a lot of foreign students,” Vallaud-Belkacem said, according to The Guardian. "Are we going to ban them access because in their culture there’s a certain type of clothing?”
In 2010, then-French president President Nicolas Sarkozy made it illegal to wear clothing that conceals one’s face in public, a law that garnered controversy as it applied to Muslim veils women wore for religious reasons, according to BBC News. In 2014, a French court upheld the law after it was challenged by a French woman who said it violated her freedom of religious expression as a Muslim.
France is home to the largest Muslim minority in Western Europe, with a population of about five million Muslims. Tensions have been on the rise since the terrorist attacks in Paris that took place in October and claimed more than 130 lives. Since then, France has experienced a rise in support for far-right groups, as well as increasing anti-Muslim backlash.