Peaceful start to French headscarf ban

3rd September 2004, Comments 0 comments

LA COURNEUVE, France, Sept 2 (AFP) - Any fears of a "rentree chaude" - an incendiary return to classes - as a result of France's headscarf ban were quickly dispelled here Thursday, as a handful of Muslim girls removed their coverings at the schoolgate uncomplainingly.

LA COURNEUVE, France, Sept 2 (AFP) - Any fears of a "rentree chaude" - an incendiary return to classes - as a result of France's headscarf ban were quickly dispelled here Thursday, as a handful of Muslim girls removed their coverings at the schoolgate uncomplainingly.  

Last year at the Jacques Brel high school there were some 30 cases of girls attending class in varying types of Islamic headdress. Now the law has changed - but far from provoking even symbolic protests in this high-immigration Paris suburb, the ban prompted barely a Gallic moue.  

"Sure, I know I have got to take it off," said Houda Bibi, a 19-year-old of Tunisian extraction who in deference to her faith recently started to wear a white wraparound to cover her hair.  

"If you have to remove it, you have to remove it. It's the law. I'm not going to start having a fight about it," she said.  

A rather stronger reaction came from Misda Mohammed, an 18 year-old whose parents are from Pakistan - "I am not happy about it. It always seems that we Muslims are being put in the wrong" - but she too untied the elaborate cloth hiding all but her face as she passed beneath the tricolour over the school entrance.  

Across the whole of France it was a similar story as the long-anticipated test-day for the country's new "secularity law" turned into a damp squib.  

But how much of this was due to a climate of appeasement created by the hostage-taking in Iraq, how much to the growing integration of young Muslims, and how much to mere indifference was the question to answer.  

In solidarity with the sense of national crisis Muslim leaders had issued  calls for calm and obedience at the start of term, but few outside the Jacques Brel lycee seemed to regard either headscarves or foreign wars as matters of especial importance.  

"It all went perfectly smoothly," said Olivier Drouilleau, a 27-year-old physical education teacher.

"But you've got to remember that these teenagers don't look at the world through journalists' or politicians' eyes. They're far more concerned about things nearer home, like money and friends and sport."  

Of the Muslim girls attending the lycee, by far the greater number were wearing the latest teenage gear, with bare bellies, lip-stick and crimped hair. "Oh is it today that that law starts?" exclaimed Nur, 18. "I completely forgot about it!"   

If France's young Arab population is more secular-minded than it is usually described as being, it is also true that they regard the headscarf law as a vindictive and illiberal gesture. All at the Lycee Jacques Brel saw it as wrong, though perhaps not wrong enough to be worth a protest.  

Less than a kilometre (half-mile) away from the school, unattractively positioned beneath a motorway flyover, lie the offices of the Union of Islamic Organisations of France (UOIF) - one of the largest Islamic groups in France, with close links to the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical traditionalists.  

Staff here have been fielding several days of calls from observant teenage girls anxious about what to wear at the start of term, and their advice - according to the body's president Lhaj Thami Breze - is to follow the law with "appeasement, serenity and responsibility."  

"People accuse us of being against the law. It is not true. We were against the bill - before it became law. Now it has been democratically passed, of course we are telling people to accept it," he said.  

According to Breze, the crisis over the hostages - the two French journalists are being held by an Iraqi extremist group demanding the repeal of the headscarf law - has had the perversely beneficial effect of encouraging Muslim integration in France.   

The country's Muslim leadership reacted with prompt and universal condemnation of the kidnappers, earning plaudits from across the political spectrum.  

"The message has finally got out: stop treating us with suspicion," he said.  

But in return he said France must grant Muslims a fair implementation of the headscarf law. According to Breze, the wearing of "discreet" headcoverings is permissible, and after the hostage affair he said he will take schools to court that stop girls wearing bandanas or other "half-scarfs."  

The legal battle is far from over.

 

© AFP

 

Subject: French news

 

 

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