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I’ve always found the approach to religious neutrality employed by (amongst many other countries) France, which includes a ban on religious headscarves in public schools, to be deeply misguided and paternalistic at best, and thinly veiled racism at worst. This anecdote certainly doesn’t do much to change my mind:

When (the Stasi Commission) looked for a discrete Muslim sign, which could be tolerated in schools like the Christian Cross of the Star of David, it came up with ‘Fatima’s hands.’ The choice could not have been more inept. Fatima’s hands are not religious signs but a kind of talisman traditionally called khomsa and worn by older Magrebi women. the khomsa was renamed ‘Fatima’s hand’ by the French colonists, presumably because ‘Fatima’ was the homogenizing, depersonalizing, and racist name given indiscriminately to Algerian women. No doubt young French Muslims rejoiced at being officially allowed to wear what at best was a meaningless and non-Islamic sign, and at worst reminded them of colonial paternalism.

Cecile Laborde, Critical Republicanism: The Hijab Controversy and Political Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 2008), pp. 133-134.

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