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French Muslims slam plan forschool ban on headscarves

PARIS, Dec 12 (AFP) – Official France reacted with varying degrees of support Friday to a report calling for a legal ban on Islamic headscarves in schools, but among many Muslims there was anger that they were being targeted by a new tool of discrimination.

As President Jacques Chirac began deliberating the findings, politicians, religious leaders, teachers and editorialists gave a guarded welcome to the key proposal that “conspicuous” religious insignia such as headscarves, Jewish skull-caps and “large” crosses be prohibited in the classroom.

 Drawn up by a 20-member committee under former minister Bernard Stasi, the report was handed over to Chirac on Thursday. He will deliver his verdict on Wednesday, and judging from past pronouncements he seemed likely to follow its recommendation to put the ban into law.

Most French newspapers applauded what they saw as the reassertion of the country’s secular identity, with the conservative Le Figaro pronouncing that it “is not for the republic to adapt to Islam, but for Islam to adapt to the republic.”

France’s leading Islamic cleric – the moderate rector of the Paris mosque Dalil Boubakeur – said he would urge Muslims to obey any law, though he suggested a grace period of several months so that observant families could accustom themselves to the new situation.

Chief rabbi Joseph Sitruk, while regretting that the Jewish kippa – worn for generations in schools without arousing hostility – should be penalised as well as the Islamic headscarf, said he would support any law that banned both.

But among Muslims voices were raised questioning whether a law aimed primarily at the country’s five million-strong community could do anything to improve social harmony.

The country’s most-visited Islamic Internet site Oumma.com issued a blistering rejection of the proposed law, saying it exposed the hypocrisy of a nation supposedly wedded to the principle of free expression.

“What is happening in France? The country that once elevated reason above all other forms of thought is now beating itself into a frenzy. How could the nation that forged the rights of man descend to such obscurantism? Our 200 year-old republic is shaken by a piece of clothing,” it said.

According to Oumma.com’s editorial director Said Branine, ordinary Muslims who grew up in France feel deeply offended by the Stasi committee’s recommendations.

“This is a law that targets Muslims. Up till recently there were two religions in France. Now there are three, but in typical French fashion the establishment is years, even decades, behind reality. France likes to boast of being ‘exceptional.’ It’s rubbish. France is just archaic,” he told AFP.

“French Muslims are republicans, democrats, secularists. But we also have our Islamic identity transmitted from our parents. We are not going to give it up. To expect us to is a colonial frame of mind,” he said.

Others warned that a headscarf ban would be self-defeating, encouraging the kind of extremism that France is trying to combat.

“My fear is that a law would be seen by the most militant part of the Muslim community as a frontal attack against Islam. We would end up with even more headscarf problems than we have now,” said sociologist Jean-Yves Camus of the European Research Centre on Racism and Anti-Semitism.

In Britain the left-leaning Independent newspaper said a headscarf ban would increase support for militant Islam. “The state should have no right to tell people what to wear just because they are of school age,” it said.

Related articles: France and the Islamic veil

 © AFP

                                                                Subject: France news