Le Pen accused of ‘improper behaviour’ for refusing headscarf to meet Muslim leader

Far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen sparked controversy on Tuesday when she refused to wear a headscarf to meet with Lebanon's top Sunni Muslim cleric. Or was it all just a publicity stunt on both sides?

Le Pen accused of 'improper behaviour' for refusing headscarf to meet Muslim leader
Le Pen explains she won't be wearing the headscarf. Photo: AFP

When she arrived at Sheikh Abdellatif Deryan's office in Beirut, the National Front candidate was offered a shawl to cover her hair.

But she promptly refused, which prompted the Sunni authority to accuse her of “improper behaviour”.

Le Pen made a brief statement to journalists before leaving.

“I said yesterday that I would not veil myself. When they did not cancel the appointment I thought they would accept that I would not be wearing the veil.
“They tried to impose that on me, as though it was a fait accompli. Well, no one presents me with a fait accompli,” the candidate said.
There have been suggestions in the French media that the clash, seen in the video below, may have all been premeditated as a publicity stunt aimed at boosting Le Pen's appeal during the French presidential election campaign.

Deryan heads the Dar al-Fatwa organisation, the highest Sunni authority in Lebanon.

In a statement on Tuesday, the body said “its press office had informed the presidential candidate, through one of her assistants, of the need to cover her head when she meets his eminence, according to the protocol assumed by Dar al-Fatwa”.

The body said it was surprised by Le Pen's refusal to conform to a known rule and regretted what it called “improper behaviour”.

However Florian Philipot, the National Front deputy leader, hailed Le Pen's stance as “a beautiful message of emancipation and freedom sent to the women of France and the world”.

Islamic dress is a hot-button issue in France, where the full-face veil is banned in public places.

The Islamic headscarf known as the Hijab is also banned in schools and public buildings, but Le Pen has said she wants to extend the ban to all public places.

Her stance however may open her up to accusations of hypocrisy as she regularly tells her supporters at rallies that foreign migrants in France should either adapt to French rules and culture or go home.

Should she have adapted to the cultural norms of where she was?

“On est chez nous, rentrez chez vous”, which roughly translates as “This is our home, so go home” is frequently chanted by her supporters at rallies, a chant that has Le Pen's support.

Tuesday is Le Pen's last day in Lebanon, where she met a foreign head of state for the first time — President Michel Aoun.

The FN leader, whose party takes an anti-immigrant stance, also met Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.

Shunned by European leaders over her party's stance on immigration and its anti-EU message, Le Pen's meeting with Aoun aimed to boost her international credibility.

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Erdogan calls French separatism bill ‘guillotine’ of democracy

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday denounced a planned French law designed to counter "Islamist separatism" as a "guillotine" of democracy.

Erdogan calls French separatism bill 'guillotine' of democracy
Erdogan has already denounced the proposed measures as "anti-Muslim". Photo: Adem ALTAN/AFP

The draft legislation has been criticised both inside France and abroad for stigmatising Muslims and giving the state new powers to limit speech and religious groups.

“The adoption of this law, which is openly in contradiction of human rights, freedom of religion and European values, will be a guillotine blow inflicted on French democracy,” said Erdogan in a speech in Ankara.

The current version of the planned law would only serve the cause of extremism, putting NGOs under pressure and “forcing young people to choose between their beliefs and their education”, he added.

READ ALSO: What’s in France’s new law to crack down on Islamist extremism?

“We call on the French authorities, and first of all President (Emmanuel) Macron, to act sensibly,” he continued. “We expect a rapid withdrawal of this bill.”

Erdogan also said he was ready to work with France on security issues and integration, but relations between the two leaders have been strained for some time.

France’s government is in the process of passing new legislation to crack down on what it has termed “Islamist separatism”, which would give the state more power to vet and disband religious groups judged to be threats to the nation.

Erdogan has already denounced the proposed measures as “anti-Muslim”.

READ ALSO: Has Macron succeeded in creating an ‘Islam for France’?

Last October, Erdogan questioned Macron’s “mental health”, accusing him of waging a “campaign of hatred” against Islam, after the French president defended the right of cartoonists to caricature the prophet Mohammed.

The two countries are also at odds on a number of other issues, including Libya, Syria and the eastern Mediterranean.