France: Chirac bans headscarves

The recent unveiling of plans by the French Government to ban the wearing of religious symbols in public schools (but not private schools) has created a massive rift in French society and has provoked protests in France and across the world. Whilst the Government has claimed that the ban is not directed against any one religious group, for many, it is seen as a direct attack on the five million Muslims living in France.

By Matt Waine

In Muslim culture it is customary for women to wear the hijab or headscarf. Some in the debate currently raging have used the treatment of women under Islamic law as a justification for their support for the ban. It is of course very true that Muslim women are treated like second class citizens by many of their male counterparts under certain trends of Islamic law. But the same could be said for women living in western society. Maybe women are not forced to wear the burqua or are free to walk down the street without a man, but women in western society come under enormous pressure to 'conform', to look a certain way, to wear certain clothes etc. In effect, the right wing Government has cloaked their real agenda with chivalrous rhetoric.

The Government has completely ignored the fact that many Muslim women choose to wear the hijab and see it as an important part of their tradition and national identity. They also see it as a certain protection against sexist ideology that prevails in western society. The ban has also encouraged groups on the far right, like Le Pen's Front Nationale, to whip up the tension, sow division and gain support for their far right and deeply racist ideas.

Socialists should oppose this attack on the Muslim community, but without giving an ounce of support to the reactionary elements within Islam.

We advocate a completely secular society, but we do not support capitalist politicians and parties attacking the rights of ethnic and religious minorities. It is wrong to think the banning of the hijab will in some way "liberate" Muslim women.

We are against either the state or religious leaders ordering any woman to wear a headscarf, just as much as we oppose attempts to ban women wearing one.

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This article is from the Feb. 2004 edition of Socialist Voice.

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