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Home > World

France uncovered

Nous détestons des écharpes!

10 February 2004

The French National Assembly has just voted, by a large margin (494 to 36) to ban "conspicuous" religious insignia from schools. The bill states:

In primary and secondary state schools, wearing signs and clothes that conspicuously display the pupil's religious affiliation is forbidden.

Assembly Speaker, Jean-Louis Debre, his chest swollen with republican joy, stated that: "What is at issue here is the clear affirmation that public school is a place for learning and not for militant activity or proselytism."

Although it seems curious that he can't see how the banning of all religious signs is not a "millitant" act. In fact, this is a typically French piece of legislation: a grand gesture of national belief, a vast blanket law, intended to protect the sacred secular Republic. As Diana Pinto, writing in the International Herald Tribune, says:

A militantly secular and neutral French republic is perceived by most citizens as the only possible response to a long and tormented French political past, rife with religious tragedy, a story in which Islam is simply the latest arrival. Most religions have, at some point, come into conflict - and even war - with the French state, and been cast out of the French body politic. The state has turned them into privileged interlocutors only after "whacking them into shape," so to speak, in the interests of social and political order.

Pinto then goes on to argue that Islam – in particular – has "proven problematic for the French state" because:

integrating it within the republic within the spirit of today's pluralist and multicultural outlook could awaken the jealousy of the other "domesticated" religions, which were never given such a choice. The result would be to threaten the entire French republican edifice.

But whether or not this ban is in fact an act of national self-preservation, it is being passed off as something else: as a means of combating racism. According to the Reuters report:

Before the vote, Education Minister Luc Ferry said France had witnessed a "spectacular rise in racism and anti-Semitism in the last three years" and the ban would help to keep classes from dividing up into "militant religious communities."

However, it is clear that the ban can only achieve this by forcing everyone into one über-community: the not-ostentatiously-religious community. And this is a spectacular act of militancy on the part of the French state - of racism, even. It's like trying to remove the stigma of baldness by shaving everyone's heads. It's nonsense. That's not how racism works.

Racism isn't about bits of fabric or wooden crosses - the outward signs of religion. It's about social uncertaintly, paranoia and ignorance. And why would forcing a young Arab girl or Jewish boy to change school in order to preserve their religious traditions do anything other than increase division, hatred and distrust?

In many cases, these caps and scarves are not optional extras. It is blasphemous not to wear them. Therefore the ban is not a ban on the clothes, it is a ban on the people. How exactly would you explain to your child that they were, in effect, banned from their old school...?

"...when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos, 'Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?'

- Martin Luther King

Vive la France!!

Stupid racist frogs.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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