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Freedom Tower
December 11th, 2003, 04:25 PM
French Panel Backs School Ban of Head Scarves

Thursday, December 11, 2003

PARIS — A presidential panel recommended Thursday that France ban Islamic head scarves, Jewish skullcaps and large crucifixes at public schools. Although directed at all three religions, the measure was clearly aimed at countering Islamic fundamentalism (search).

The conclusions of the panel -- after six months of study and 120 hearings -- is at the heart of a wrenching debate in France on how to integrate its Muslim community, the largest in Western Europe.

There are fears that head scarves signal inroads by extremists among the country's 5 million Muslims, who make up 7 percent of the population of this predominantly Catholic country. But Christian and Jewish religious leaders recently opposed a law banning head scarves from schools and favored better integration of the Muslim community into the mainstream.

Bernard Stasi, who headed the commission, said its members were shocked to discover a "situation more serious than we thought." He spoke of "forces that are trying to destabilize the country."

The report said hospitals and prisons have seen a growing tendency to impose religious practices. It said some hospital corridors are used as prayer rooms and some men refuse to allow their wives to be treated by male doctors.

Moise Cohen, president of the Consistoire of Paris (search), which directs religious Jewish life, said Thursday he opposes a head scarf law because it could be viewed by Muslims as discriminatory and "exacerbate emotions."

Two leading Muslim representatives appeared to reject the commission's report, though in mild terms.

The French Council for the Muslim Faith (search), an umbrella group, said it "approves" the positions of the Jewish and Christian religious leaders and "encourages everything that can strengthen the spirit of concord and tolerance."

The head of the Great Mosque of Paris, Dalil Boubakeur, withheld approval of the panel's conclusions, saying only that he shares President Jacques Chirac's (search) concerns about "guaranteeing freedom in the framework of secularism."

There was no immediate reaction from the Catholic Church. But the Protestant Federation of France (search) said it was "agreeably surprised" with the scope of the report, saying it helps clarify "the principles of secularism in 21st century France."

Chirac, who appointed the panel, will announce next week whether he supports banning conspicuous religious symbols from schools.

But he has already made clear his opposition to head scarves in the classroom. On a visit last week to Tunisia, Chirac told high school students that wearing a veil in France was seen as "a sort of aggression."

Head scarves are already forbidden for public servants, but that rule -- which is not a law -- is occasionally broken. A Muslim employee of the city of Paris was recently suspended for refusing to take off her scarf or shake men's hands.

Several girls have been expelled from public schools this year for wearing Islamic head scarves. There are on average about 150 complaints involving head scarves annually, according to the French Education Ministry.

The 20-member panel agreed unanimously that France should impose a law banning "obvious" religious and political symbols from public schools, such as head scarves and yarmulkes. Small pendants like the Star of David would be permitted.

Stasi stressed that the commission's work did not target France's Muslim community but would give all religions more equality and free young girls who, in some cases, are forced to wear head scarves.

"Muslims must understand that secularism is a chance for Islam," Stasi said. "Secularism is the separation of church and state, but it is also the respect of differences."

France's largest high school teachers union said the report didn't go far enough in calling for secularism to prevail in public schools.

"Veils are just one problem," said Daniel Robin, national secretary of the SNES union. He said several of France's regional administrations still require religion to be taught in public schools and have clergy on their payrolls.

The commission also recommended what would be a first for France -- adding Jewish and Muslim holidays to the school calendar.

There is currently no law banning head scarves in schools or elsewhere. In 1999 France's highest administrative body ruled that scarves should be banned only when they are of an "ostentatious character," but left it to schools to make the call case by case. The same applies to skullcaps and crucifixes.

The panel concluded that the rule's language left room for interpretation and that a law banning the "obvious" display of religious symbols would be easier to enforce.

Proponents of a law say that students who wear Muslim head scarves to school, just like civil servants who cover their heads on the job, are challenging the nation's secular underpinnings.


December 18th, 2003, 01:59 AM
I'm sure it's the right decision, come on........no doubt about it.

January 30th, 2004, 06:29 AM
January 30, 2004


Scarves and Symbols



With France on the verge of passing a law that would prevent Muslim girls from wearing their head scarves in class, Americans are asking why the French are so attached to secularism. I always want to respond to this question by asking another, a version of one asked by Montesquieu nearly three centuries ago: how can one be French? Our uneasiness about head scarves and other religious symbols in schools is a result of our long, often painful, history. If we bow to demands to allow the practice of religion in state institutions, we will put France's identity in peril.

The French word that is closest to secularism, laïcité, was invented in the late 19th century to express several ideas. Laïcité includes, foremost, tolerance. Tolerance had actually been around for a while. It was first instituted in 1598 under the Edict of Nantes — which allowed Protestants to practice their faith and ended our Wars of Religion. But the state and the Roman Catholic Church were so intertwined that tolerance wasn't enough. We had to take away the church's power to oppress minorities and make law.

For that, France had to go farther than other countries in separating matters of state and matters of religion. The most emphatic expression of this desire came in our Revolution of 1789. The French people didn't just depose a monarch — they also took aim at the Catholic Church's domination of society, stripping the church of its property and demanding that the clergy acknowledge the authority of the state.

In the century after the Revolution, however, the Catholic Church found ways to regain power. A concordat between the papacy and Napoleon in 1801 gave the church a privileged position as the majority religion of France. The church took control of education and provided priests as teachers. As monarchs, emperors and republics succeeded one another during the 1800's, the church inserted itself into politics by joining with forces that were enemies of the rights of man and the republican ideas of the Revolution.

The leaders of the Third Republic, in the 1880's, saw that for the republic to establish itself, it had to wrest control of the schools from the church. Prime Minister Jules Ferry founded the public school system, which barred priests as teachers and took over the job of transmitting common values and the sense of social unity — in short, forming the citizens of the republic — without reference to religion.

The next step, the ending of Napoleon's concordat, came in 1905. By separating church and state — instituting a republic that was neutral toward all religions, and without a national religion — France finally realized the aims of the Revolution. This is laïcité, and it has worked well.

But the laïcité of schools has been eroded by the intrusion of religious symbols, prompted by an excess of individualism, that philosophy so revered by Americans. The necessity of the law that Parliament will debate on Tuesday reveals the regrettable waning of this French tradition. More than ever, in this time of political-religious tensions, school secularism is for us the foundation for civil peace, and for the integration of people of all beliefs into the Republic. If the French hold laïcité so dearly, it is because that principle, as much as the republic and democracy, is essential for a cohesive society. Each nation has its bedrock principles. One could just as easily ask, what does it mean to be American?

Meanwhile, more and more, there is talk of a Europe-wide laïcité. More and more, European democracies are multireligious. They no longer have a base of common religious tradition. Instead, they are constructing social guidelines built around ethical, universal values like justice and liberty of conscience.

The question that France is posing to the world is this: Can one progress toward true respect of these universal values without relying on some sort of "laicity"? To disarm fundamentalism, notably Islamic fundamentalism, can we give up laïcité, which builds a neutral space for all of us?

Guy Coq is the author of a book about secularism in France. This article was translated by The Times from the French.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

January 30th, 2004, 06:49 AM
I can follow the reasoning but what a completely disastrous policy. Not only is it divisive and discriminatory but it would give headscarves the added cachet of outlawry. I doubt it will make it into law but if it does I predict a reversal in less than six months.

Freedom Tower
January 31st, 2004, 12:11 PM
Believe it or not, this is one of the few times I support Chirac. He isn't only banning headscarves, but large crosses, and yamachas too. (I'm not sure how to spell yamacha) So it isn't an "Attack against Islam" like many people are making it out to be. I think it's a good idea because of all the racial tensions in France. It has a large muslim population, which doesn't always consider itself French. It's my personal belief that you should consider yourself American if you live in America. French if you live in France, Japanese if you live in Japan. Besides, it is almost like banning gang colors in schools in America. The muslims and jews in france aren't always friendly. And making it obvious who is who in school will just lead to fights, and other distractions. School is a place for learning, and if these symbols become too much of a destraction there will be no learning.

February 8th, 2004, 04:16 PM
NEW YORK TIMES: February 8, 2004

France Has a State Religion: Secularism

PARIS — Who would have thought a piece of cloth could threaten the stability of the French state?

For four days last week, France's National Assembly debated the wisdom of a draft law that would ban most religious symbols from public schools. Although the move is aimed at preventing Muslim girls from showing up in the schoolyard with various degrees of swathing on their heads, President Jacques Chirac and his ministers, in a bow to egalitarianism, have also declared that items like Christian crosses that are deemed too large and Jewish skullcaps will also be prohibited.

The debate has little to do with the usual reasons for school dress codes and everything to do with the French state's historical impulse to impose its republican value system on an increasingly diverse population that now includes five million Muslims, about 8 percent of the population.

The practices of these new arrivals are often cast as a challenge to Christianity, but in many ways they challenge another religion entirely - the unofficial creed of secularism, which underlies the French conception of government and dates to 1789 and the French Revolution itself. In contrast to pluralist societies that try to accept, or even celebrate, cultural differences among their citizens, the French ideal envisions a uniform, secularized French identity as the best guarantor of national unity and the separation of church and state.

These days, a small but determined minority of France's Muslims has begun to make demands that clash vividly with that ideal. They include calls for sex-segregated gym classes and swimming pools for girls and prayer breaks within the standardized baccalaureate exams at the end of high school. Some teachers complain that hostility from Muslim students toward Israel has made it impossible to teach about the Holocaust. Some Muslim men have refused to allow their wives or daughters to be treated by male doctors in hospitals.

The visibility of Islam is striking. Because of a shortage of mosque space, thousands of Muslims pray on public sidewalks and in the streets outside their places of worship. hen there is outright criminal behavior. A young Arab-Muslim underclass is blamed for anti-Semitic acts, yelling racial slurs in public and destroying Jewish property.

In this atmosphere, the law of laïcité, or secularism, has taken on a do-or-die, us-against-them urgency, and the proposed ban on the veil in school is an effort to draw a line against any further demands.

The emphasis on a show of cultural uniformity, paradoxically, comes at a time when the broader European ideal is evolving toward an acceptance of differences. Last July's cover of "Social Agenda," a European Union magazine on social affairs that is published in Brussels, illustrated a cover article titled "Making Immigration Work" with a photo of a female graduate, a head scarf under her mortarboard.

There is also this complication: Instead of promoting integration, the new French rule could create a deeper cultural divide. In the debdebate in Parliament on Wednesday, for example, Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin called for a national contract of "republicans" against "extremists."

Still, it is natural that France's government would pick the Islamic veil as a symbol of everything un-French and potentially dangerous about its Muslim population. Ever since 1789, images and symbols have been used and abused to educate the French people about the republican ideal and the conformity it required.

What better emblem of the nurturing French state could there have been than the engraving of the 1790's titled "Republican France Giving Its Bosom to All of France''? It shows a strong-featured woman with a carpenter's level (symbolizing equality) strategically placed between her exposed and nurturing breasts, and a Gallic rooster sitting on her Phrygian bonnet (a symbol of liberty).

The belief in the republican ideal so permeated the political culture of the 1790's that there were numerous artistic renderings of a fictional woman who chose to blow up herself and her children rather than surrender to counterrevolutionary enemies.

In those days, good revolutionary citizens were forced to wear emblems of the republic. Revolutionaries donned the "cockade," a round red, white and blue ribbon signifying a citizen's liberty; one could be imprisoned for refusing to wear it.

In 1905, a law codified the separation of church and state. But the struggle for a perfect fit between a powerful central republican state and religious practice has never been completely resolved. Nor has official France erased symbols of Catholicism, a pillar of its pre-revolutionary identity.

Seven of the 11 national holidays, including the feast of the Virgin Mary's assumption into heaven and the coming of the Holy Spirit to Jesus Christ's disciples, celebrate Catholic events. The Catholic catechism is taught and the crucifix is hung in public schools in Alsace-Lorraine, which is exempt from the 1905 law because the area was still in German hands when it was adopted.

At the same time, Mr. Chirac has rejected a proposal that France move toward treating its faiths equally by creating one school holiday apiece for Jews and Muslims.

Underscoring the inconsistencies, private Catholic, Jewish and Protestant schools, which would be exempt from the law banning religious symbols, receive state financing. The administrators of the country's first Muslim high school, which opened in Lille last fall, are hoping it, too, will qualify. Some Muslim leaders have pledged to create Muslim schools throughout France, meaning the state could find itself financing schools where the head scarf is the norm.

Even some members of the president's own commission have criticized the recent focus on Muslim head scarves, saying it betrays the spirit of their report, which they had hoped would help unify the country.

"The political response is absurd and laughable," the historian René Rémond told Le Monde. "It feeds the illusion that all we have to do to solve the problem of integration is to vote through a law."

Alain Touraine, a sociologist on the commission, told France Inter radio on Friday: "I used to always say to my foreign friends, 'France doesn't have ghettos.' Well, yes, we have ghettos.''

Both men criticized Mr. Chirac for acting on only one of the commission's 26 recommendations, ignoring, for example, proposals for eradicating "urban ghettos'' and creating Arabic language programs in schools.

That means the huge problem of integrating Muslims into French society is being argued on a much smaller scale, over issues like whether bandannas and beards are religious symbols and when a cross is too big.

March 13th, 2004, 08:44 PM
I have French friends who are pretty progressive. They totally support the ban. As some of the previous articles describe, French public schools up until recently have maintained a generally agreed upon secular persona. It is a place of religious neutrality. Muslims specifically have challenged this long-standing tenet of French society and rather than letting it set off a potentially violent backlash, the government addressed the issue head on. No religion or religious symbols in public schools. It is ban only in the schools and it makes sense.

March 16th, 2004, 06:24 PM
[b]French PM is sent 'terror letter'

Mr Raffarin reportedly received the threats via Le Parisien newspaper
French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has received a letter from an unknown Muslim group that threatened to attack France, French officials say. A group calling itself Servants of Allah, the Powerful and Wise One sent the message via Le Parisien newspaper.

Anti-terrorism police have taken on the official inquiry into the threats against France and French interests abroad, the justice ministry stated. The threats came five days after train bombs in Madrid killed 201 people.

"It is obviously not yet possible to assess the worth of this message," said the justice ministry in a statement. Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy told Agence France Presse news agency that experts were analysing the threats.

Mixed stories

The two-page letter was delivered to the newspaper's offices early on Tuesday, sources close to the investigation told AFP. Both Le Parisien and Le Monde said the letter was signed "Mosvar Barayev commando". The signature was similar to Movsar Barayev, the leader of a Chechen group that took hundreds hostage in a Moscow theatre in October 2002 - and died during the siege.

Le Parisien's news director Christian de Villeneuve told AFP that the letter "threatens France with reprisal attacks" following the adoption earlier this month of the law banning the wearing of headscarves in state schools.

Freedom Tower
March 17th, 2004, 04:14 PM
Hopefully France isn't going to back down like Spain did. Spain gets attacked viciously and horribly, but instead of fighting back against al qaeda, they elect new leadership, socialists!! Plus those leadres may pull Spanish troops out of Iraq, way to give the terrorists what they want! I doubt France will end the ban on religious items just because of a threat though. If they actually do get attacked, that's another story.

March 24th, 2004, 04:07 PM
I think that France should explicitly say that they want to curb Islamic Fundamentalism in their county. It's a shame that the rest of the population have to suffer becuase of a few bad apples.

October 22nd, 2004, 09:55 AM
October 22, 2004

France Turns to Tough Policy on Students' Religious Garb


PARIS, Oct. 21 - To enforce its new law banning religious symbols from public schools, the Ministry of National Education has decided to get tough.

This week it held formal disciplinary hearings and began expelling students who violated the law. The goal was to get rid of those defined as hopeless cases before the 10-day All Saints school vacation that ends with a national holiday honoring all of Catholicism's saints.

The French government sees no contradiction or irony here.

Nine female Muslim students who have refused to remove their Islamic head coverings have been thrown out of schools across France. After the All Saints break, dozens of cases that are pending will be reviewed.

"The phase of dialogue and consultation is over," said an official at the ministry, who refused to allow her name to be used. "It was an unbearable situation for the teachers and the pupils. It was a crazy situation. The law has to be respected at some point."

Since school started a month ago, students who have refused to remove what school administrators define as conspicuous religious symbols have been quarantined in study halls or libraries and not allowed to attend class.

The banned symbols include anything that can be construed as an Islamic veil (head scarf, bandanna, beret), a Jewish skullcap, a large Christian cross and a Sikh turban.

Officially the law is aimed at enforcing France's republican ideal of secularism. Unofficially it is aimed at stopping female Muslim public school students from swathing themselves in scarves or even long veils.

There have been odd, unintended consequences.

Despite the 1905 law separating church and state in France, public schools have been allowed to keep chaplains, most of them Catechism-teaching and Catholic, on their staffs as long as they were not paid by the state. In 1960 a law set up a formal process to create new chaplain posts and allowed existing ones to continue.

But this fall some teachers at the Dumont d'Urville high school in the southern city of Toulon objected to what they said was a double standard: Muslim girls had to doff their scarves, but the Rev. Antoine Galand, the school's Catholic chaplain, could wear his priestly garb.

So Father Galand was barred from the school and may return only if he removes his collar and cassock and dons a business suit.

"We regret this interpretation of secularism, because it's not what the law says," said the Rev. Charles Mallard, the priest responsible for youth instruction in the Catholic Diocese of Toulon. "But it's not worth fighting over an article of clothing, knowing that in Catholicism, 'the cowl doesn't make the monk.' "

He added that even in secular France it was considered "normal" to have Catholic chaplains in public schools.

Cennet Doganay, a 15-year-old Muslim of Turkish origin from Strasbourg, showed up on the first day of school in a large beret. The school administrator told her that the beret was a religious symbol, refused to admit her to class and advised her to take a correspondence course from home, Ms. Doganay said.

She refused. She asked her parents to help her shave off her hair, returned to school in the beret and when she was required to remove it, she revealed her bald head in protest. Since there is nothing particularly religious about baldness, she is going to school again.

"They drove me crazy and tried to brainwash me so much that I got fed up and I did it - I shaved my hair off," she said. "Now I feel alone; I feel like a monster. It's like being naked on the street."

France's Sikh community, meanwhile, challenged the new law in court after the Louise-Michel school in the Parisian suburb of Bobigny barred three male Sikh students from classes because they were wearing turbans.

The three boys were at first put into a separate room where they could not attend class and then banished from school without having the chance to defend their case at a formal school hearing, Antoine Beauquier, one of the boys' lawyers, said.

"For the moment we are in this no man's land of no law," Mr. Beauquier said. "These three kids, who are good students with no problems, have had no access to classes. The effects are terrible."

Confusing matters, he added, some Sikh boys in other schools have been allowed to attend school wearing a hairnet or a small piece of fabric on their heads.

In a letter to President Jacques Chirac nearly a year ago, the Sikh community argued that the turban should be allowed because it is a cultural, not a religious, symbol.

Under the new law, expelled students have the right to appeal to their local school boards. If they are under 16, the legal age for quitting school, they have a stark choice: they must be schooled at home or by correspondence or find a private school. France has only one Muslim high school.

In an interview with France Inter radio on Tuesday, Education Minister François Fillon said he was pleased with the way things were going. He said that at the start of the school year there were 600 cases of students refusing to remove their religious symbols - most of them Muslim girls in scarves - but that most had agreed to do so after a "dialogue."

A number of opponents of the law criticize the "dialogue" process as nothing more than pressure to break the will of students. "It's a machine that destroys the individual in the name of a fundamentalist secularism," said Dr. Thomas Milcent, a Strasbourg physician and convert to Islam who heads a Muslim lobbying group. "Some girls have been treated with cruelty, kept in isolation for days. This is extremism."

Hélène Fouquet and Ariane Bernard contributed reporting for this article.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company