Earlier this week 20,000 women and girls clad in black sheets and headscarves topped by blue, white and red headbands, surged along the streets of central Paris, directed by hectoring men on loudspeakers, to protest the proposed French ban on the wearing of headscarves in state schools. Similar protests took place in Stockholm and other European capitals in solidarity – and, as there’s something about wearing a shapeless sheet that renders Atkins a moot point, these gals were plenty solid. They held aloft banners on which were variations of “France est ma patrie; la voile est ma vie!” (“France is my country. The scarf is my life.”) In London, men and women protested (separately, of course) carrying signs proclaiming "secularism has failed the world" and chanting for "female dignity" and an end to "secular vanity."
The proposed ban is being condemned by many of France’s Muslims (there are five million Muslims in France, eight per cent of the population; the largest in Western Europe) as a form of "religious harassment." Native French see it as about time.
France is a secular society. State schools were started specifically as a counter-influence to early church schools. The government is using this to mask its real concern that the wearing of the headscarf by schoolgirls is being used by project-dwelling Muslims as an act of aggression against the host society.
The presence of the hijab in the classroom is not an issue in schools where the presence of eight or 10 headscarf-wearing Muslim girls in a classroom is barely noticed. The problem is in the capital and the large industrial cities that are ringed with public housing that has majority Muslim populations. The inhabitants, many second or third generation welfare recipients, are not the Arab middle class Muslims who come to the US for education, or to emigrate, and whose wish it is to integrate into the host society.
French Muslims are in the main from N Africa and emigrated en masse after France granted Algeria independence. The second and third generation harbor ill-defined grudges against the host society and engage in the behaviors of idle, disaffected young men elsewhere in the West, except with the toxic addition of religious hatred .
There are suburbs outside Paris, Lille, Lyons and other big industrial cities where Muslims make up the vast majority of the school-going population. Some classrooms may have two or three native white French girls and 19 or 20 headscarf clad Muslims. And the presence of the scarf and all that it implies in the way of religious imperialism has finally lit the tinderbox of the clash of values between the enlightened West and the bigotry of some Muslims.
First, it is divisive. Given the large majority of Muslim girls in the classrooms in industrial areas, it marks French girls whose families have lived on French soil since time immemorial, as “different” and strangers in their own country. Second, France has equality between the sexes, and wearing the scarf – in a Western secular country, as opposed to an Islamic society, where it is the norm and thus unremarkable – subconsciously gives males the advantage of not being “different”. Third, it puts the onus of male behavior onto the shoulders of girls. Who can blame a male for becoming inflamed if a girl is so bold as to reveal her hair? France considers this an unfair burden on schoolgirls.
The French government could turn a blind eye – indeed, has turned a blind eye – to the last two aspects, but it is the hijab-clad majority, with its implied criticism of native French girls as being “shameless” that is now being used as an excuse for young male Muslim aggression against girls, and for Muslim aggression against the host society.
In the projects where native French are very much in the minority, native French girls are being bullied into adopting the headscarf. Girls who are “bold” enough, or disrespectful enough of the Muslim majority, are being gang-raped by Muslim adolescents on the grounds that they need a lesson. This is part of a new, rapidly developing “tradition”. Teaching white girls a lesson for not wearing a headscarf not only has its own argot, but there is a mobile phone ring tone associated with it, too. Small wonder that the parents of white daughters in the projects insist on them donning a scarf to leave their homes. So the aggressive fist of militant Islam reaches out to control the host community.
In any event, the issue of the headscarf is, in a sense, a phony one. It is not a religious requirement. Nowhere is it required in the Koran, which merely directs that women dress “modestly”. In the suburbs of the French industrial cities, it is a cultural badge. A trademark.
The 20,000 human spams who poured through the streets of Paris were insisting (“France est ma patrie; le voile est ma vie”) that the hijab is their choice. But, the French state wants to know, is it? Or is it worn at the insistence of male members of the family who do not want their daughters “looked at” by boys and men? How many 12-year old Muslim girls are daring enough to disregard the orders of a male family member? Are they allies in their own repression? To be fair, protecting the rights of all their citizens is the business of the French government.
And the ban is on school property alone. They are free to wear the hijab anywhere else.
There are those who predict that Chirac will back down over this, especially as France has just agreed to make bathing in municipal swimming pools, at certain hours, single sex only in response to demands from the Muslims.
The hijab issue, though, has taken off on a life of its own and Chirac will have noted that he has the backing of most of the 92% of French voters who are not Muslim. Television talk panels have been breathtaking in their candor on the issue – far more bracing than anything that would appear on politically correct American or British TV.
On a TV panel a few nights ago, there was the standard lefty Christian churchman apologist for Islam contending that the ban was “racist”. OK. Standard fare from lefty churchmen. Pull the string and listen to a dog collar spout multi-culti boilerplate. There were various French commentators arguing for the ban. There was the standard issue overweight Muslim woman swathed from head to toe in what looked like white parachute silk who argued her points with a superior sneer on her face; there was a chic, slender Muslim woman, made up to the nines and hair teased out to there, who opined that the veil is crap and a well-dressed, polished and articulate Muslim man who argued politely for the hijab. The host was even handed and intelligent. It made for very interesting TV.
Will the government back down? The media interest tells me they won’t. In addition, the left has been strangely muted on the issue.
Sadly, having brought up religious symbolism in the classroom, the government is obliged to be even handed and the downside is, Jewish boys will have to abandon the skullcap during school hours, and Sikh boys, very much a tiny minority in the French population, will have to abandon their turbans, which are, unlike the scarf in Islam, an integral part of their religion. This is a shame, because Jews and Sikhs are achievers at school and are peaceable and industrious contributors to the French economy and French society. To be totally even-handed, the ban will also exclude the wearing of “large crosses”.