© Vitostreet

When Obama said that Western countries should avoid "dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear", it could have been perceived as a personal attack in France. The hijab, along with all religious symbols, was banned in French schools in 2004. Read more...

The French government's decision to ban pupils from wearing "ostentatious religious symbols" caused a ruckus with hijab-wearers in the country when it was first enforced. Although the law remains in place five years on, Obama's highly critical comments on the subject come as a slap in the face for the French model. Our Observers who wear, or have worn the hijab, give us their opinion.

The statements in question:

The United States government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab and to punish those who would deny it.

It is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practising religion as they see fit -- for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear.  We can't disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.

I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. 

“White men think they know what is best for Muslim women”

UK - Jana Kossaibati is a medical student from London. She runs the blog Hijab Style.

Of course I agree with Obama's statements. Freedom of religion and freedom of dress are basic human rights. It's unbelievable to force women to remove their clothing - which is exactly what the French government is doing in schools. It's not up to the government to decide how women should dress; this colonial attitude has manifested itself again in this rule; in that white men think they know what is best for Muslim women. No one consulted French Muslim women and girls about what they thought - where is the democracy here?

For a Muslim woman, hijab is something full-time; we don't choose to wear it some days and not others. Again, why is it that everyone BUT Muslim women are the ones deciding how they should live their lives?"

“Every woman should have the choice (…) both in Iran and in France”

IRAN - Shohreh is a 23-year-old art student from Tehran, Iran. 

I live in a country where wearing a hijab is mandatory for everyone: Muslims, Christians and irreligious people, which I find unequal and unfair. But it is just as unequal and unfair to ban everyone from wearing the hijab!

I don't consider the hijab as a religious sign; for me it's part of our culture and custom. Personally I don't wear a scarf (when not in public), but that's my choice. Every woman should have the choice of wearing the scarf or not, both in Iran and in France. I agree with Obama on this."

“The hijab flies the flag for extremism”

FRANCE - Silhem Habchi has been president of the women's rights movement Ni putes ni soumises (Neither whores nor submissive) since 2007.  

I'm very disappointed. Obama, the first president to represent diversity, is supposed to symbolise peace-making. And yet, he forgot one half of humanity. I'm furious. It's like he tried to make a compromise with the Arab world with women paying the price. Trying to get closer to the Muslim world in turning a blind eye to women's rights, to democratic values and to the right of emancipation, is to exploit women. He can't truly want to fight against religious extremism and give in over the hijab issue at the same time. The hijab flies the flag for extremism."

"In the US religious freedom exists. In France, we’re far from it"

FRANCE - Saida Hida is a member the Strasbourg branch of the Ligue Française de la Femme Musulman (French Muslim Women's League). 

Obama has always had a deep respect for religious freedom. It shouldn't go unnoticed that he appointed a veiled woman to his advisory board. In the US religious freedom exists. In France, we're far from it. Secularism could have been understood as a symbol of open-mindedness and tolerance, but we took the route instead of imposing a one-vision system on everybody.

The year 2004 (when the ban was imposed) was a very hard one for Muslim women in France. We saw this law as an injustice. The hijab debate meant that all the other problems French schools were facing at the time - and still are facing - were forgotten. It also served, as Obama pointed out, to embody the post - 9/11 hostility towards Islam. This hostility was created by collective imagination and shallow news snippets.

I have some brilliant young girls in my association who can't attend state school because they wear the hijab. So they have to study from home or move abroad, often to Belgium, where they're without their family and financially drained.  

France can be very proud of some things but in the case of the hijab, they've completely forgotten about "liberté, égalité, fraternité."