But critics say these efforts, rather than promoting a sense of secular inclusion, have encouraged rampant discrimination against Muslims in general and veiled women in particular. The result has been to fuel a sense among many Muslims that France — which celebrates Christian holidays in public schools — is engaging in a form of state racism.
The ban, some critics argue, also plays into the hands of Islamists, who are eager to drive a deeper wedge between Muslims and non-Muslims in the West . . ..
[O]bservant Muslim women in France, whose head coverings can vary from head scarves tied loosely under the chin to tightly fitted caps and wimple-like scarves that hide every strand of hair, say the constant talk of new laws has made them targets of abuse, from being spat at to having their veils pulled or being pushed when they walk on the streets.
In some towns, mothers wearing head scarves have been prevented from picking up their children from school or from chaperoning class outings. One major discount store has been accused of routinely searching veiled customers.
Some women have even been violently attacked. In Toulouse recently, a pregnant mother wearing a head scarf had to be hospitalized after being beaten on the street by a young man who called her a “dirty Muslim.”
Statistics collected by the National Observatory Against Islamophobia, a watchdog group, show that in the last two years 80 percent of the anti-Muslim acts involving violence and assault were directed at women, most of them veiled.
“What is revolting is that such things take place in broad daylight and with the total indifference of the people around,” said Abdallah Zekri, the group’s president.
But in recent years, French leaders appear ever more focused on banning veils. They have been driven by a number of factors, including the rise of a far-right movement that openly deplores what it calls the Islamization of France and the reality that homegrown Muslim extremists have carried out two of the worst attacks within France, including the shootings at the headquarters of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in January.
Mainstream politicians on the right, including former President Nicolas Sarkozy, are calling for veiled women to be barred from universities. Others in Mr. Sarkozy’s party want to see women who cover their faces in public brought up on felony charges. On the left, a small party has pushed for a law stopping veiled women from working in day care centers with government contracts.
Even in President François Hollande’s Socialist government, Pascale Boistard, the junior minister for women’s rights, said in January that she was “not sure that the veil had a place at the university level.”
Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, who noted the high number of attacks on veiled women as an area of particular concern in his 2014 report on France, is critical of what he called the country’s “preoccupation” with Muslim women’s attire.
“It only highlights and stigmatizes them,” he said.