An official report dealing with religious expression in French schools has become a must read for anyone interested in the Islamization of France. Written under the auspices of the top national education official, Jean-Pierre Obin, the report was not initially released by the Ministry of Education. But it was leaked on the Internet in March and now can be found in its entirety at www.proche-orient.info and other websites.
The 37-page report is the product of a study carried out between October 2003 and May 2004 by a team of 10 inspectors, including Obin. In addition to examining the recent literature on religion and schools in France, they visited 61 academic and vocational high schools in 24 départements, chosen not as a cross-section of public schools, but rather as schools typical of those where religious expression has become a problem because of the high concentration of ethnic and religious minorities. Many are located in ethnically segregated neighborhoods now often referred to, the report says, "by analogy with the United States, as 'ghettos.'"
In each school, inspectors interviewed the management team, staff, and teachers, as well as lay people from the community, including parents, social workers, and elected officials. In addition, regional education officials were asked to submit accounts of their experiences in primary schools.
Amid much diversity--some of the schools were rural, some urban; some had fairly homogeneous student populations, others immigrants from many different countries--the inspectors report two consistent findings: a marked increase in religious expression, especially Muslim expression, in schools; and denial on the part of officials at all levels--from the classroom, to the principal's office, to the regional administration--that this phenomenon is occurring.
The researchers began by studying the neighborhoods surrounding the schools. Mostly, these were depressed areas abandoned by anyone with a secure income. The report describes the flight of "French" residents and "European" shops--sometimes after they have been the targets of violence--in tandem with the arrival of immigrants and the collapse of real estate values.
Scores of informants told the Obin team that these neighborhoods were undergoing a "rapid and recent swing" toward Islamization, thanks to the growing influence of religious activists. These young men, intense and highly intellectual in their piety, are sometimes former residents of the neighborhood who have been to prison, where they were converted to Islam. More often, however, they are educated men with degrees from universities in France, North Africa, or the Middle East. They have come to be known as "bearded ones" (distinctive beards are a marker of Muslim purists and extremists--think of bin Laden) or "big brothers" (a name evocative of the worldwide jihadist movement's Muslim Brotherhood), and they offer young people a proud identity--Muslim--in place of the dismal identity of unassimilated immigrant.
The biggest social change entailed by this Islamization, Obin reports, is a deterioration in the position of females. Teenage girls are forbidden to play sports and are constantly watched by an informal religious police made up of young men, sometimes their own younger brothers. Makeup, skirts, and form-fitting dresses are forbidden; dark, loose trousers are the strongly recommended attire. To go to the blackboard in front of a class, some Muslim girls put on long coats. Often, they are forced to wear the headscarf, or hijab, and forbidden to frequent coed movie theaters, community centers, and gyms, or even to go out at all on weekends. Lots of young women were afraid to tell the Obin team what punishments are in store for them if they disobey. Not only female students but also female teachers, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, are frequently subjected to sexist remarks by male teenagers.
In primary schools, the report cites instances of first grade boys' refusing to participate in coed activities and Muslim children's refusing to sing, dance, or draw a face. In one school, restrooms were segregated: some for Muslim students and some for "French." Some lunchrooms were segregated, by section or table. Some students required halal meat; at one school, the principal provided only halal meat for everyone.
With Muslim proselytizing on the rise, the report states that students are under pressure to observe Ramadan, the annual month during which Muslims fast during the day. In some high schools, it is simply impossible for Muslim kids not to join in, whether they like it or not. Obin cites one student who tried to commit suicide because of intimidation and threats from other kids over this issue. Obin also emphasizes that many conversions to Islam are taking place under duress.
Inevitably, the report records rampant "Judeophobia," to use the term in vogue in France. Among even the youngest students, the term "Jew" has become the all-purpose insult. Obin deplores the fact that principals and teachers do not strenuously object to this, treating it simply as part of the youth culture. Even more serious is the increase in assaults on Jews or those presumed to be Jewish. Usually the assailants are Muslim students. Sometimes the victims are, too: One Turkish high-school girl was relentlessly harassed and bullied at school because her country is an ally of Israel. The section of the report on anti-Semitism winds up with this sad conclusion: In France today, Jewish kids are not welcome at every school. Many are forced to switch schools or even conceal their identity to escape anti-Semitism.
According to the report, Muslim students perceive a large gap between the French and themselves. Even though most of the Muslim kids are actually French citizens, they see themselves as Muslims first, and more and more of them hail Osama bin Laden as their hero. In their eyes, he represents a victorious Islam triumphing over the West.
Finally, the report discusses a host of difficulties teachers encounter in dealing with specific subjects in the classroom. Most Muslim kids refuse to participate in sports or swimming, the girls out of modesty, the boys because they do not want to swim in "girls' water" or "non-Muslim water." When it comes to literature, French philosophers such as Voltaire and Rousseau are very often boycotted because of their supposed Islamophobia. Molière, the father of French satiric comedy, is among the writers most often boycotted.
As for history, Muslim students object to its Judeo-Christian bias and blatant falsehood. They loudly protest the Crusades, and commonly deny the Holocaust. Under the circumstances, many teachers censor their own material, often skipping entire topics, like the history of Israel or of Christianity. The report cites one teacher who keeps a Koran on his desk for reference whenever a thorny issue arises. It cites Muslim students who refuse to use the plus sign in mathematics because it looks like a cross. Field trips, especially to churches, cathedrals, and monasteries, are boycotted.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, these pathologies are now present across France. Muslim "ghettos" are found not only in the suburbs of major cities but in towns and villages as well. Obin describes them as islands of counterculture, sealed off and opposed to modern democratic society.
Summing up, Obin explains his disturbing findings as the result primarily of indoctrination orchestrated over years by international Muslim organizations. From an early age, students are taught what to think, what to believe, and to regard their school teachers as liars. The goal of the radical groups seeking to segregate Muslim communities and denouncing integration as oppression, Obin writes, is to take the Muslim residents of France out of the French nation and make them think of themselves as part of the international Muslim community.
In a particularly interesting observation, Obin notes that it is the schools that have reached accommodations with the extremists that are most plagued by violence against girls, Jews, and teachers. Schools that refuse to tolerate the intolerable have coped much better with the problems described in the report. As a result, Obin calls for a policy of no compromise with Islamist demands.
Still unclear is how French educators can be expected to hang tough while their government refuses to own up to the problem--as demonstrated by its failure to make public the Obin report. With the Muslim share of the French population already over 10 percent and growing, the schools are only the tip of the iceberg.
Olivier Guitta is a freelance writer specializing in the Middle East and Europe.