Protests fail to move France on headscarf ban
PARIS, Feb 15 (AFP) - The French government is pushing on with its proposed law to ban Islamic headscarves and other religious insignia in schools despite weekend demonstrations by angry Muslims decrying the "discrimination" against them.
Hundreds of protesters, many of them Muslim women hiding their hair under scarves, took to the streets of Paris, Marseille, Lyon, Lille and other French cities Saturday to again show their opposition to the law, which passed its first parliamentary hurdle last Tuesday.
The bill is now before the French senate, which is due to examine it on March 2.
Thus far, President Jacques Chirac and his centre-right government have taken little heed of the protests, which have shown some signs of petering out.
Nearly 70 percent of the country back the new law, according to polls, believing it upholds France’s version of secularity, which calls for a strict separation of state and religion in public institutions.
In line with recommendations from a committee set up by Chirac, the law would prohibit Muslim headscarves, Jewish skull caps, large Christian crosses and other conspicuous religious ornamentation in state schools. The ban may also extend to beards and bandanas in some cases, if they are deemed to be religious in nature.
The legislation looks certain to sail through parliament and come into force in time for the start of the new school in September after Chirac’s ruling UMP party won support from the opposition Socialists in return for a promise to review the measure’s success after a year.
Those fighting the bill’s passage, however, are aiming to hit the government where it hurts, by urging France’s estimated five million Muslims to vote against it in regional elections to take place March 21 and 28.
“It’s the government that has to be sacked,” read some of the banners carried during the march through Paris Saturday. “One scarf = One vote,” warned others.
“We are part of the electorate – we’re going to try and punish them,” one 31-year-old protester wearing a scarf who gave only her first name, Ghislaine, said.
Turn-out at the marches were relatively low by French standards, gathering only a few hundred or in some cases – by organisers’ figures likely to be somewhat inflated – a few thousand.
The main group involved, a new association calling itself “School for All”, has links to an influential Geneva-based Islamic philosopher, Tariq Ramadan. Extreme left-wing groups also took part.
But while the government appears ready to face down the domestic upset over the law, it is having a harder time weathering criticism from abroad.
Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, on a visit to India, found himself forced to assure his hosts that France would “find a satisfactory solution” for the country’s tiny Skih minority, which fears the turbans required to be worn by their boys and men would also be banned.
“We are going to seek to answer this question and resolve this issue in the best possible way to show the respect we have for the Sikh community but by also taking into account the constraints of our situation in France,” he told a New Delhi media conference alongside his Indian counterpart, Yashwant Sinha.
As he spoke, a small demonstration of Sikhs and Muslims holding black flags took place in the centre of the Indian capital.Small protests have also sprung up in Britain, Egypt, Thailand and other countries in past days and weeks.
Last month, Saudi Arabia’s highest religious authority, grand mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, called France’s proposed law an “infringement on human rights”.
Subject: France news