French student leader criticised for wearing hijab

Maryam Pougetoux

A French Muslim student union leader who has been accused by ministers of using the hijab for political gain has called the claims “pathetic”.

France’s interior minister personally criticised Maryam Pougetoux for being interviewed while wearing her headscarf.

“It’s my faith,” the student told Buzzfeed News, adding: “[My hijab] has no political function.”

Ms Pougetoux, 19, is the president of the student union at Paris’s Sorbonne.

She appeared in a documentary talking about student protests against the French president’s educational reforms while wearing a hijab.

The French Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa said it was a “form of promotion of political Islam”, adding that the students’ union Unef “should tell us what values it wants to promote, clearly and coherently”.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Gérard Collomb said Ms Pougetoux’s appearance in a hijab was a “provocation” that he found “shocking”.

Wearing the Muslim headscarf was banned in French schools and some other public buildings in 2004 but it remains legal in universities.

In the Buzzfeed interview, Ms Pougetoux said (in French) the comments from politicians following her appearance on television were “pretty bad”.

“I did not expect it to go up so high that it’s almost a state affair. It is rather pathetic for a minister of the interior to make such remarks,” she said.

Ms Pougetoux has also been the target of abuse on social media and said she had received “hate messages” after her phone number was shared online.

She told Buzzfeed she felt “fear” and that she had to be “careful” in public “because I did not know what could happen”.

The student union has said that Ms Pougetoux is a victim of “racist, sexist and Islamophobic hatred”.

A ban on Muslim headscarves and other “conspicuous” religious symbols at state schools in France was introduced in 2004.

It received overwhelming political and public support in a country where the separation of state and religion is enshrined in law.

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