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Islamic headscarf debate rekindled in France

The debate about Islamic headscarves which gripped France in 2004 has been reignited by a controversial court ruling.

President Francois Hollande, a Socialist, has backed cross-party moves for further curbs on headscarves.

Muslims have reacted with dismay to demands for a new law, which followed a ruling by France’s highest court of appeal last month.

France has the largest number of Muslims in western Europe – estimated at between five and six million.

The Court of Cassation ruled that an employee of a privately-run nursery who was sacked for wearing an Islamic headscarf had been unlawfully dismissed.

The Socialist government was quick to warn of a threat to the “principle of secularism”, which “must not stop at the nursery gate”.

All sides in this debate say they are committed to a secular state, but under the banner of secularism they pursue a diverse range of social and political agendas.

‘Legal loophole’

Conspicuous signs of religious affiliation, including Islamic headscarves, are already banned from French state schools, and full-face veils (burkas and niqabs) cannot be worn in public places. The ban in schools took effect in September 2004, and the full-face veil ban in April 2011.

The leader of the centre-right opposition Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), Jean-Francois Cope, said the recent court ruling pointed to a “legal loophole regarding the application of secularism in certain situations”.

The appeal to secularism obscures the fact that critics of the headscarf ruling fall into two broad camps: those defending a particular view of “the French way” of doing things and those defending “universal” values.

Two prominent journalists on two of France’s most popular radio stations used their regular commentary slots to set out the arguments.

On RTL radio, Eric Zemmour nostalgically looked back to the 1970s, when French Jews “took off their skullcaps as soon as they stepped into the street”, so that nobody would be made to “feel awkward by an ostentatious expression of faith”.

This “French way of living together” was disrupted by the arrival of “the community-based Anglo-Saxon model”, he said. “Those who want to resist this steamroller are trapped, labelled racists or reactionaries,” Mr Zemmour lamented.

According to him, a new law applying to private companies is needed to protect the French “way of life”.

‘Sexist practice’

On France Inter radio, Thomas Legrand said the problem did not lie with religious symbols as such but specifically with the Islamic headscarf and “what it says about the place of women in certain neighborhoods”.

Read the full story on BBC News

Category: World News |

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Last updated December 8, 2016 at 12:39 AM
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