France prohibits wearing ethnic garments in schools * France takes on new wave of anti-semitism in schools
- Ha'aretz, Sunday, March 02, 2003
France prohibits wearing ethnic garments in schools
By Daniel Ben Simon
Students in France won't be allowed to wear any garments
indicating their ethnic community as part of a new plan the
French education ministry is implementing this week.
Teachers will also be required to report every anti-Semitic or
racist incident to the authorities.
The French government aims to stop growing ethnic segregation.
"We will have to send very explicit warning signals to clarify
that we are determined to impart the values of the Republic (of
France) in our schools," Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has
said, expressing the hope that the new plan will be a powerful
tool in the fight against schoolhouse anti-Semitism and racism.
The program is designed to fight violence and eliminate the
possibility of parochial school programs. Former education
minister Jack Lang expressed unequivocal support for the ban on
the Muslim head cover.
Over the past two years, violence against students because of
their religious beliefs or cultural affiliation has mounted.
Jewish students wearing the Star of David were beaten and
humiliated, Muslim students were struck by classmates, threatened
and forced to break their Ramadan fast.
According to one Jewish teacher in a Paris suburb, attacks on
Jewish students at school have intensified since the start of the
second intifada. Sometimes, violence starts even as they leave
their house, sometimes on the bus to school. Most incidents take
place during recess, with students of North African descent
picking on, cursing and even hitting Jewish students.
"The second intifada and September 11 have broken the
anti-Semitic barriers," the teacher told Le Monde. "I am very
concerned by the anti-Semitic behavior of some of the students,
but I am even more worried because non-Jewish teachers refuse to
acknowledge this problem, leaving the Jewish teachers isolated,"
Sylvie, a teacher who has been working with students of North
African descent for 16 years, sees things differently. She
teaches economics and political science, and has never
encountered special problems except on the part of French
society, which refuses to let her students integrate.
"My students have only one concern," said Sylvie, who declined to
give her last name. "They want to succeed. The fact that they are
not integrated into French society is due to the reluctance of
this society to accept them. It is true that they use bad
language, but is this racism? Sometimes they argue with me about
grades, and say: `you don't like Arabs, right?', but I think they
say that without thinking. In our school, Jewish teachers don't
come to work on their religious holidays. The Arab students know
and respect that."
Either way, concerns of communalism have prompted Raffarin's new
government to take action before it is too late. Immediately
after his reelection, President Jacques Chirac announced his
intention to enhance French education and wipe out any trace of
communalism, which the French perceive as a substantial threat to
the fiber of society. Newly appointed education minister, Luc
Ferry, an intellectual and writer, was therefore requested to
submit a plan to stop communal phenomena in schools.
The problem is particularly potent in suburbs and poorer
neighborhoods, which are home to large communities of North
African immigrants. In these places, the education system is on
the verge of destruction. "If things go on like this, eventually
they will be teaching in Arabic in the Muslim quarters," said a
teacher who lives near Barbes, an area in Paris where many North
France takes on new wave of anti-semitism in schools
Minister fears a war in Iraq could exacerbate tension between
Muslim and Jewish communities
Jon Henley in Paris
Saturday March 1, 2003
France began an effort to stamp out anti-semitism and racism in
its schools yesterday, fearing that a war in Iraq could seriously
heighten the tension between its Muslim and Jewish communities.
The education minister, Luc Ferry, said regional cells would be
set up to monitor and respond to anti-semitic and racist acts by
schoolchildren and help schools address the problem, adding that
teachers would no longer be allowed to turn a blind eye to the
harassment of Jewish pupils.
"There is a trivialisation of anti-semitism that worries us, a
new wave of anti-semitism that is being tolerated by certain
adults," he said.
"We cannot let things go on like this and the imminence of a
possible war in Iraq is not going to help matters."
Mr Ferry said terms like "dirty Jew" and "Alien Sharon" were now
popular playground insults, and that the adjective "Jewish" was
used in "all sorts of unacceptable contexts: a 'Jewish pen' is a
pen that does not work, and playing 'Jewish catch' is playing
France's 5 million Muslims and 650,000 Jews, both the biggest
communities of their kind in Europe, have been put under severe
strain in the past two years by the surge in Middle East violence
since the second Palestinian uprising began.
Scores of anti-Jewish attacks were recorded last year, including
several firebombings of synagogues and insults and assaults on
In schools, most of the 455 racist and anti-semitic incidents
reported in the first term this year involved insults, offensive
graffiti and vandalism. Physical violence is rare.
The French media have highlighted such recent incidents as an
11-year-old Jewish boy in Paris forced to change schools after
relentless bullying by Arab pupils and a history teacher showered
with paper pellets when he tried to teach a class about the
One Jewish teacher at a Paris secondary school, who asked not to
be named, said that last year "for the first time in 19 years of
teaching, a 14-year-old Muslim girl refused to let me correct her
work. I had to give her higher marks than she deserved to keep
Sociologists say that youths whose parents emigrated from
France's former north African colonies and who often live in grim
high-rise suburbs on the outskirts of French cities feel they
have become the victims of institutionalised racism and see the
Jewish community as both more affluent and better integrated.
"Anti-semitism is being viewed as commonplace because it is
coming from a source that is supposedly more acceptable than the
classic far right, namely the Arab-Muslim world," Mr Ferry said.
"But we must not accept it, and heads of schools know that very
In the light of reports that an increasing number of students are
wearing scarfs or skull caps to display their faith, he said it
was time to reassert the secular nature of France's state
"We should be able to say to all students: 'Drop the crosses, the
veils, the caps, we are going to play by the rules of the
Members of the government and most Jewish leaders have
consistently said that the rising inter-community tension and
sporadic violence are mainly the consequence of political rather
than religious differences.
But some foreign Jewish groups, particularly in America and
Israel, have seen in the incidents evidence of an acceptance of
anti-semitism and an echo of dark days of the Vichy
collaborationist war time government, which oversaw the
deportation of 750,000 French Jews to Nazi death camps.
The Israeli government seemed to provide more ammunition to
France's critics last month when it said that 2,556 French Jews
had emigrated to Israel last year: double the 2001 figure, and
the highest number since the Six Day war.
But the Jewish Agency in Paris said the figures were "more about
protecting Israel than fleeing France".
There have been few concrete signs so far that the growing
likelihood of war against Iraq is leading to unrest in its Muslim
and Arab populations, and the evidence suggests that serious
racist incidents are declining since tough new discrimination
laws were pushed by the interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy.
But President Jacques Chirac is leading the international
opposition to a US-led attack on Baghdad, and many observers have
pointed out that his stance is influenced at least in part by the
fear of a potential Arab backlash at home if France is involved
in an eventual war.