'About 100' girls defying French headscarf ban, says minister

8th September 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Sept 8 (AFP) - About 100 French Muslim girls have refused to take off their headscarves in school despite a government ban on "conspicuous" religious insignia in state schools, Education Minister Francois Fillon said Wednesday.

PARIS, Sept 8 (AFP) - About 100 French Muslim girls have refused to take off their headscarves in school despite a government ban on "conspicuous" religious insignia in state schools, Education Minister Francois Fillon said Wednesday.  

"There are about 100, between 100 and 120" girls who have refused to heed the controversial "secularity law" that took effect last week with the start of the academic year, Fillon told Europe 1 radio.  

But the minister expressed confidence that school administrators would "convince nearly all of these young girls" to take off their headscarves in the coming days.  

Some 12 million pupils were obliged to heed the new law as they went back to school on Thursday, but expected confrontations over the ban were overshadowed by nationwide concern over the fate of two journalists kidnapped in Iraq.  

The Islamic militants who abducted Radio France correspondent Christian Chesnot and Le Figaro reporter Georges Malbrunot on August 20 demanded that Paris rescind the ban on headscarves in state schools.  

France refused to back down, bringing the law -- aimed at reinforcing the separation of religion and state -- into effect as planned.  

Though the law does not single out any specific faith - Jewish skullcaps, large Christian crosses and Sikh turbans are banned along with headscarves - many in France's five-million-strong Muslim community believe the hijab worn by teenage girls is the main target.  

Fillon on Wednesday noted that there had been one incident involving a student wearing a large cross since the school year began.  

Around 30 members of France's small Sikh community have been refused access to school because of their head coverings, although a community leader said none of the boys had been formally expelled, and negotiations were ongoing.  

On Wednesday, French President Jacques Chirac hailed the "spirit and responsibility and respect" that reigned on the first day of school, in comments made public by government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope.  

Fillon noted the Muslim community's support in the wake of the hostage-taking in Iraq, saying that integration in France "is working better than people say."  

But in eastern France, one 12-year-old girl barred from two public schools because of her headscarf had decided to attend classes in Belgium this year, according to her lawyer.  

"As she is unable to enrol at an establishment that allows for the free expression of one's religious beliefs, she was forced to leave the country in order to attend a more flexible Belgian school," lawyer Nohra Boukara said.  

The young girl, identified only as Hilal, will be a boarder at the school, Boukara said.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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