Chirac stokes Muslim veil debate - Reuters
- 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
"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
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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