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Chirac to decide on headscarf ban

PARIS, Dec 15 (AFP) – The recommendation of a French commission to ban Islamic headscarves along with other overt symbols of religion in state schools and public offices places a tough decision in the hands of President Jacques Chirac.

Chirac is scheduled to deliver a speech on the subject Wednesday and judging from his own convictions is thought likely to recommend a law adopting the conclusions of the report. In Tunisia recently Chirac described the wearing of scarfs as “a sort of aggression” in France.

The commission said the Muslim headscarf, the Jewish kippa and large crucifixes were divisive and had no place in France’s state schools, which play a key role in the integration of French society and are in principle strictly secular.

That secularity has been tested by the decision of some Muslim families to send their daughters to school swathed in traditional garb.

However, the commission sought to establish a balance by suggesting that although overt religious symbolism should be banned in schools and public places, Jewish and Muslim as well as Christian holidays should be celebrated, that discreet signs of religious attachment should be allowed and that special meals should be supplied to observant Muslims and Jews.

The Stasi report – named after commission chairman Bernard Stasi – describes secularism as the “cornerstone” of French republicanism.It seeks to guarantee the neutrality of schools and public services and defend against any form of discrimination while guaranteeing respect for religious diversity.

The publication of the report has touched off a lively debate, with some saying that a law against overt religious symbolism would stigmatize the Islamic community and others equally dismissive about the proposals to mark non-Christian religious holidays in schools and public offices.

With some five million followers, Islam is France’s second religion, but the community is sharply divided on the issue. Many Muslims successfully integrated into society are strongly opposed to allowing headscarves in schools. However the Union of Islamic Organizations in France says that a ban on scarves would be discriminatory.

The president of the French Council for Islamic Cult (CFCM), Dalil Boubakeur, who speaks for a moderate segment of the community, said he hoped that any ban on headscarves would not be applied in a brutal way.

The secretary general of the Roman Catholic bishops’ conference, Stanislan Lalanne, said the report seemed positive in that it combined vigilance for France’s republican tradition with a desire to welcome the country’s religions. However, he said the church wanted to time to study the text and to hear Chirac’s opinion before casting judgment.

Any law would apply not only to mainland France, where the main challenge comes from militant Islam, but to French overseas territories, which have a broader mix of religions.

In the Indian ocean island of La Reunion, for example, European, Chinese and Indian religions rub shoulders with Judaism and Islam.

“No one here is shocked by visible signs of religion,” said Andre Thien Ah Koon, deputy mayor of the La Reunion town of Le Tampon.

School principle Vincent Defaud said a law against overt symbolism would be seen as “an agression” by all the people on the island.

 © AFP

                                                                Subject: France news