Gloves off in test of French headscarf ban

21st October 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 21 (AFP) - France's state schools grappling with a new law banning Muslim headscarves have started expelling students refusing to put education before their religion.

PARIS, Oct 21 (AFP) - France's state schools grappling with a new law banning Muslim headscarves have started expelling students refusing to put education before their religion.

So far this week, at least six schoolgirls have been expelled, and the education ministry says around 70 others are flouting the ban.

Implemented at the start of France's current school year which began last month, the law prohibits the wearing of conspicuous religious insignia, such as Islamic headscarves for girls, Jewish skullcaps or Sikh turbans for boys, and large Christian crosses in state schools, colleges and universities.

It aims to assert the country's secular identity and ensure that each pupil is treated equally in the classroom.

But the law's passage was controversial, with many in President Jacques Chirac's conservative ruling party disagreeing it was necessary, and Muslim groups have been claiming it is a form of discrimination against the sizeable minority they represent.

Other EU countries like Britain and Germany, which also have large Muslim communities, do not have similar national legislation.

After having tried to persuade recalcitrant students to abide by the law, the issue has now become a test of wills between some students and education officials.

Five of the Muslim schoolgirls were expelled from schools in eastern France Tuesday and Wednesday, according to headmasters and reports, while one was expelled from a school in the north of the country.

"They have just destroyed my life," one of the girls, a 12-year-old Algerian named Khouloud, told Le Monde newspaper. She is now looking at taking on home study.

The towns involved - Lyon, Mulhouse and Caen - all have significant communities of Muslim immigrants from North African countries such as Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.

In addition, three boys of Indian Sikh families in a Paris suburb have been studying alone in their school's canteen after being excluded from classes for refusing to take off their traditional keski, a small wraparound headcover usually worn under turbans.

Under the new law, their separation from their classmates is supposed to be a temporary measure pending dialogue and an academic and school appraisal.

If a student is eventually expelled, he or she can appeal.

The controversial legislation has angered many of the country's five million Muslims and 300,000 Sikhs.

France's estimated 650,000 Jews have been largely unaffected because boys insisting on wearing a kippa, or skullcap, can go to private Jewish schools.

The Muslim community, in comparison, only has one school, in the northern city of Lille.

There have been no instances of practising Christians falling foul of the law. The law has had some repercussions for France abroad.

The kidnappers of two French reporters held hostage in Iraq since August 20 initially demanded Paris rescind the legislation in return for their release. France rejected the demand.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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