Everyday, there is something horrible out of France.
WISSOUS, France — Malek Layouni was not thinking about her Muslim faith, or her head scarf, as she took her excited 9-year-old son to an amusement site near Paris. But, as it turned out, it was all that mattered.
Local officials blocked her path to the inflatable toys on a temporary beach, pointing at regulations that prohibit dogs, drunks and symbols of religion. And that meant barring women who wear head scarves.
Mrs. Layouni still blushes with humiliation at being turned away in front of friends and neighbors, and at having no answer for her son, who kept asking her, “What did we do wrong?”
More than 10 years after Francepassed its first anti-veil law restricting young girls from wearing veils in public schools, the head coverings of observant Muslim women, from colorful silk scarves to black chadors, have become one of the most potent flash points in the nation’s tense relations with its vibrant and growing Muslim population.
Mainstream politicians continue to push for new measures to deny veiled women access to jobs, educational institutions and community life. They often say they are doing so for the benefit of public order or in the name of laïcité, the French term for the separation of church and state.
But critics say these efforts, rather than promoting a sense of secular inclusion, have encouraged rampant discrimination against Muslims in general and veiled women in particular. The result has been to fuel a sense among many Muslims that France — which celebrates Christian holidays in public schools — is engaging in a form of state racism.
The ban, some critics argue, also plays into the hands of Islamists, who are eager to drive a deeper wedge between Muslims and non-Muslims in the West.
So far, France has passed two laws, one in 2004 banning veils in public elementary and secondary schools, and another, enacted in 2011, banning full face veils, which are worn by only a tiny portion of the population.
But observant Muslim women in France, whose head coverings can vary from head scarves tied loosely under the chin to tightly fitted caps and wimple-like scarves that hide every strand of hair, say the constant talk of new laws has made them targets of abuse, from being spat at to having their veils pulled or being pushed when they walk on the streets.
In some towns, mothers wearing head scarves have been prevented from picking up their children from school or from chaperoning class outings. One major discount store has been accused of routinely searching veiled customers.
Some women have even been violently attacked. In Toulouse recently, a pregnant mother wearing a head scarf had to be hospitalized after being beaten on the street by a young man who called her a “dirty Muslim.”
Statistics collected by the National Observatory Against Islamophobia, a watchdog group, show that in the last two years 80 percent of the anti-Muslim acts involving violence and assault were directed at women, most of them veiled.