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Chirac stokes Muslim veil debate - Reuters

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  • Zafar Khan
    Chirac stokes Muslim veil debate Fri 5 December, 2003 17:00 By Sophie Louet
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 5 9:48 AM
      Chirac stokes Muslim veil debate
      Fri 5 December, 2003 17:00
      By Sophie Louet


      TUNIS (Reuters) - President Jacques Chirac has
      denounced Muslim headscarves on schoolgirls as
      offensive and expressed concern about Islamic
      fundamentalism as momentum builds up in France to bar
      all religious symbols from public schools.

      Speaking on a visit to Tunisia on Friday, Chirac said
      the strictly secular French state could not let pupils
      wear what he called "ostentatious signs of religious
      proselytism" and saw "something aggressive" in the
      wearing of traditional Muslim veils.

      Chirac's comments to pupils at the French lycee in
      Tunis sharpened the shrill headscarf debate in France,
      which has seen diffuse popular concerns about Islam,
      women's rights and Muslim immigration develop into a
      broad movement to ban the veil.

      More than 60 prominent French women, including
      actresses Isabelle Adjani and Emmanuelle Beart and
      designer Sonia Rykiel, issued a petition on Friday,
      urging a ban on "this visible symbol of the submission
      of women".

      "We cannot accept ostentatious signs of religious
      proselytism, whatever they are and whatever the
      religion," said Chirac, who is due to receive a
      special report on enforcing secularism next week in
      preparation for a possible ban.

      "In our public schools, a veil has something
      aggressive about it which presents a problem of
      principle, even if only a small minority wears it."

      Critics say banning a bit of cloth ignores the root
      cause of problem, the failure to integrate France's
      five million Muslims -- mostly of North African origin
      -- into French society.

      Muslim women and girls argue that banning them would
      infringe on their freedom of religion.

      Only a handful of schools have expelled girls for
      insisting on wearing veils, but polls show a majority
      of voters favour a ban and parliamentarians are ready
      to pass one into law.

      Referring to Islamic fundamentalists, who many
      anti-veil activists say pressure girls into covering
      their heads, Chirac also spoke out against "certain
      schools of Islam that are not compatible with

      He said all religions had known in their history
      "times when suddenly there is a deviation or drift
      that leads to excesses that stoke useless fights and
      totally oppose the essence of religion, which is love
      and respect for others".

      Chirac stressed he had no dispute with the large
      majority of French Muslims, many of whom are born in
      France and have full French citizenship, and admitted
      that Paris had to do more to ensure they are better
      integrated into French society.

      Political momentum against the veil picked up on
      Thursday when 30 parliamentarians came out in favour
      of an even more explicit ban than Chirac hinted at,
      substituting the word "visible" for the more debatable
      term "ostentatious".

      Some conservative politicians are wary of a total ban
      on religious symbols since it would also bar neck
      chains with a Christian cross or Jewish kippa

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