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Indivisibilité, Sécurité, Laïcité: the French ban on the burqa and the niqab

Cohen-Almagor, Raphael



In France, secularism is celebrated in the public sphere. The paper makes general arguments about France’s changing identity and specific arguments about the burqa and niqab ban. It explains how French history shaped the ideology of secularism and of public civil religion, and how colonial legacy, immigration, fear of terrorism and security needs have led France to adopt the trinity of indivisibilité, sécurité, laïcité while paying homage to the traditional trinity of liberté, égalité, fraternité. While the motto of the French Revolution is still symbolically and politically important, its practical significance as it has been translated to policy implementation has been eroded. The emergence of the new trinity at the expense of the old one is evident when analyzing the debates concerning cultural policies in France in the face of the Islamic garb, the burqa and the niqab, which are perceived as a challenge to France’s national secular raison d'être. The French Republic has attempted to keep public space secular. Is the burqa and niqab ban socially just? Does it reasonably balance the preservation of societal values and freedom of conscience? It is argued that the burqa and niqab ban is neither just nor reasonable in the eyes of the women and girls who wish to wear the Muslim garb, their families and community, and that paternalism that holds that the ban is for the women’s own good is a poor, coercive excuse. Claims for paternalistic coercion to protect adult women from their own culture when they do not ask for protection are not sufficiently reasonable to receive vindication.


Cohen-Almagor, R. (2021). Indivisibilité, Sécurité, Laïcité: the French ban on the burqa and the niqab. French Politics,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 16, 2021
Online Publication Date Oct 19, 2021
Publication Date Oct 19, 2021
Deposit Date Oct 20, 2021
Publicly Available Date Oct 20, 2022
Journal French Politics
Print ISSN 1476-3419
Electronic ISSN 1476-3427
Publisher Palgrave Macmillan
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords France; Burqa; Coercion; Égalité; Fraternité; Indivisibilité; Laïcité; Liberté; Niqab; Religion; Sécurité
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