As predicted, the French lower house passed a largely symbolic measure that bans full face coverings in public.
In a posting last week, I pointed out that whatever one thinks of the French ban, it fits into a more than one-century-long tradition of enforcing (or at least trying to enforce) a rigorous secularism in public life. For example, in 2004, the French legislature outlawed headscarves in state run schools, along with yarmulkes, crucifixes, and turbans.
Significance? I’d say entirely symbolic. The ban reflects a very widespread consensus among French voters that, whatever role Muslims play in the future, they don’t want their society to change. By my reckoning, a similar sentiment animates the American debate about immigration. The point is not to exclude or reject or repudiate immigrants. Instead, in the main the concern is with preserving social and cultural identity.
So the parallel might be a push to ban Spanish language schools in Texas. It’s not an anti-immigrant impulse. It’s a pro-assimilation impulse. The same holds, I imagine, for most French voters.