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Banning Religious Symbols and Clothes

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I personally think the decision of the Baden Wuerttemberg parliament is wrong because it openly discrimates against women and it discriminates against one religion: Islam. Nobody would ask a nun, a Catholic priest who come to our schools to teach Religious Education not to wear their habit, their crosses or anything else.

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I am not an expert on Islam but Muslim friends have led me to understand that the faith of Islam in no way disciminates against women. In fact some of the basic 'rules' of islam which in a modern society could well be considered discriminatory were in fact put into place either to protect women, to provided them with a more equal standing or as a response to health issues.

Please correct me if you feel that I am wrong but I see the hijab as something that has the potential to emancipate women not subjugate them. The hijab takes away issues of beauty. Beautiful people are often considered to be more intellegent interesting people and they command more attention in the classroom and the workplace. Women spend an inordinate ammount of time making themselve appear more beautiful in order to gain that attention - I should know!

I also have Muslim friends. They live in Dubai but have a summer home in Brighton. The wife has to wear a hijab in company with people other than her husband. As she has explained to me the reason she wears a hijab is because her husband believes that without it other men would find her sexually attractive. Nor is Fosia allowed to touch other men (I caused a major incident when I shook her hand when I first met her). I can assure you that Fosia does not feel emancipated by having to wear a hijab. As she told my wife, it is just another way her husband has power over her. As she says, while she has to remain at home in Brighton her husband is out enjoying the night life (he drinks alcohol when in England). She also suspects that he is also visiting prostitutes (he is – he also tried to seduce a young female friend of mine).

She was also forced to marry a first cousin. The marriage has resulted in five children. Of these, three are severely disabled. The eldest daughter is extremely bright and won a place to university. However, her father refused to let her go and instead married her off to a cousin.

The idea that women have to cover their hair in an effort to stop them being sexually attractive is something Christians in Europe believed in the Middle Ages. Women in Europe fought for and eventually got the right not to be oppressed by men. Muslim women have yet to achieve that freedom.

How should those committed to sexual and racial equality respond to this situation? Should we be doing as much as we can to help Muslim women achieve equality with Muslim men? Or should we take the view that it has nothing to do with us? Personally I think it depends to a large extent where they live. If, for example, they are British citizens, we should do what we can to make sure that Muslim women have the same rights as other women.

One way we can do this is through our educational system. As a teacher I have seen large numbers of Muslim girls being influenced by their non-Muslim girlfriends. This has brought them into conflict with their fathers. For example, in Britain we have had several cases of young Muslim girls being murdered by their fathers and uncles because they have refused to marry the man chosen for them.

Muslim men in Britain have attempted to solve this problem by demanding the provision of Muslim schools for their children. For political reasons (nearly all Muslims in Britain vote for the Labour Party and live in areas controlled by them) they have been allowed to create Muslim schools. This is a disastrous policy and is creating serious divisions in our society. One of the major reasons for the religious conflict in Northern Ireland was the creation of separate Protestant and Roman Catholic schools.

I therefore believe the French have got it right by favouring equality over religious freedom. That does not mean I agree with their decision to stop girls wearing hijabs in schools. But they are surely right to insist that their schools should not be about religious indoctrination.

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I do not believe that the wearing of headscarves threatened the secular nature of education in France. I do believe that the government was kowtowing to the far right.

In England and Wales it would be even more ridiculous when the minority Church of England has a privileged position both in schools and in the state. And I repeat the question, who on earth is offended by a headscarf? Such ppl must go through life being offended!

I think that there will be those who feel freed from family pressure by this decision but the overall effect is part of an anti-muslim onslaught which is racist at heart.

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I am considering voting for jean Marie Le pen... One of the reason is that for the first time in 100 years, the French policy of assimilation which has worked for all groups since the neneteenth century hasn't worked for one group, Arabs from the Maghreb.

As like all French I am for the policy of assimilation, and I am opposed to communautarisme

I don't agree with the idea that the policy of assimilation was successfull with other groups : it has always been very difficult in the beginning. Today it seems to have been very easy, but just consider the french language and pejorative (racist ?) nicknames given to foreign communities when they came in France : "ritals" for Italians (many were killed in Marseille at the end of XIXth century), "polacks" for Polish people, "espingouins" for Spanish people, "portos" for Portugueses (all christian), "ratons" or "bicots" for people from Maghreb, and so on...

The best proof of assimilation is the increase of the number of mixed marriages (french+foreign)


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I do not believe that the wearing of headscarves threatened the secular nature of education in France.  I do believe that the government was kowtowing to the far right.

I don't think so. A majority of french people is OK, a majority of left parties is OK (for the law : 494 deputies and 276 senators, against : 36 and 20). The law is the result of a committee which listened to many people

lesrapports.ladocumentationfrancaise.fr/ BRP/034000725/0000.pdf

You have to consider the context :

- the growth of radical islamism in France (for a french pov, the freedom of speech and public sermon of radical islamic leaders somehow linked to terrorist spheres is quite strange)

- the struggle for equality of rights between men and woman and for womens lib' : those two last years rose (rised ?) in France a movement of girls living in multiethnic suburbs, whose leaders are women from north african origin. The name of the movement is "Neither whores nor subjected", because such girls in such suburbs often have one choice : subjection or to be considered (and eventually abused) as whores (because of their clothes) by young mens and brothers. The movement takes its birth after the murder of Sohanne Denziane (17 years old, burned alive in Vitry-sur-Seine on 4th october 2002 by her ex "boyfriend"). The movement fight for a secular republic, against headscarves, against collective rapes, angainst sexism, against ghettos, against use of islam to dominate women, etc.


- in some french suburbs and french schools (but not all) ethnic and religious and political conflicts rise, linked to the conflict between Israël and Palestinians.

- before the law, the question of the headscarves had to be treated by each school administration : some accepted, some didn't and at the end came exclusion of the school and justice and often reintegration. So a lot of problems whithout equality between schools.

Probably the headscarve was only a way for government to avoid social questions.

Edited by Laurent Gayme
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An excellent explanation Laurent. I find it very useful to hear from people living in the country where the events are taking place. Other recent examples on the forum include the Madrid Bombings and the French Elections. It is becoming one of the most important aspects of the forum.

It would be great if we had Muslim members who could contribute to this debate.

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An excellent explanation Laurent. I find it very useful to hear from people living in the country where the events are taking place. Other recent examples on the forum include the Madrid Bombings and the French Elections. It is becoming one of the most important aspects of the forum.

It would be great if we had Muslim members who could contribute to this debate.

Some muslim contributions her


Edited by Laurent Gayme
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On the one hand the best solution would be to analyse every case individually. The woman who at the moment is fighting for her right to wear a hijab in Germany credibly asserts that she is not forced by anyone to wear a hijab that she wants to wear it as it symbolizes her religious identity; she also claims that by wearing the hijab she is not making a political statement.

On the other hand a government understandably must find legislation for a large number of cases and then I think there are only two options left: allow students and teachers to wear the clothes they like or ban any display of religious and/or political affiliations in school (the French way).

A "third way" would be the course suggested by the German President: allow teachers and civil servants to wear the hijab but find ways to make sure the Muslim girls and women can enjoy the Human Rights like non-Muslims. School is seen as a medium and catalyst to help especially Mulsim girls to find out which rights they have and how to use them. This very often leads to severe conflicts in the girls' families and I think we have to find ways of how to help them and protect them e.g. from forced marriages.

I would like to add an anecddote which refers to Rowena's statement about beauty and the hijab. A had a colleague whose husband comes from Iran. They live in Germany but whenever they go to Teheran to visit his family she has to wear the chador. She brought the chador with her to one her to school and her lesson; we all tried the chador on and felt extremely uncomfortable; we felt as if suffocated by the heavy black garment and our view literally limited to a very narrow vision. Maybe the explanation is that we are not used to wearing this kind of dress, but I am not so sure. I definitely do not like society's obsession with beauty idols and I know which dangers they pose especially for young people but my answer is definitely not the recommendation of wearing a chador, burqa or whatever.

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This debate is part of a much wider debate going on about the merits of multi-culturalism in European society. For many years this has been a taboo subject. This is especially true of the left who like Derek have been quick to resort to the claim of racism when the issue is raised. This has stifled debate and has kept people left of centre quiet on the issue. However, I think it is time liberals and socialists began to think deeply about this topic.

In a largely ignored speech, Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, recently proclaimed that “multi-culturalism” has had its day. For those outside of the UK, Phillips is a black man with a long history of left-wing activism. Phillips has questioned the “unthinking platitudes about the richness of all diversity in a multicultural society, as if any difference was a self-evident asset.” Phillips has argued that it is the philosophy of multiculturalism that has allowed “alien communities to stay in their silos”.

One of the main reasons this has happened is the willingness of the state to pay for the provision of Muslim schools. How can dividing children along faith lines help to bring people of different faiths together? Why is it that people on the left who have rightly criticised the role the state plays in promoting religion in the UK (including the funding of church schools) yet are willing accept the right of Muslims to demand government funds to set-up their own schools?

A recent poll showed that 13% of British Muslims said they wanted to see further terrorists attacks on America. They probably approved the bombings in Madrid. It is a possibility they would not mind terrorist attacks in Britain as long as they took place outside the area they were living in. These people are obviously anti-American? But are they also Islamo-fascists? Those on the left should not be afraid to describe them as reactionary zealots simply because they are non-white.

Trevor Phillips is concerned about what long-term impact this cultural isolationism will have on racial minorities in the UK. He is especially worried what will happen to race-relations when the UK experiences the expected Muslim fundamentalist terrorist attack.

Polly Toynbee (another figure on the left) agrees with Phillips and in a recent article argues: “Muslim teaching on women staying one step behind will not do: respect for religion cannot take precedence over respect for British law. No, it doesn’t mean tearing off schoolgirls’ headscarves, but it does mean ensuring equality for them.”

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I certainly agree that separate muslim schools is not the answer, but surely by banning the hijab in main stream schools muslim girls are being driven into separate muslim schools.

Whether the hijab is a symbol of equality or oppression we have to accept that a huge number of muslim girls either have to wear them or choose to. By telling them that they are not allowed to you are either denying them the rights that the rest of us enjoy (freedom of religion) or putting them in greater danger. At least if óppressed' girls are in main stream school an eye can be kept on their well being, if they are taken out of the public eye then who knows what will happen to them and what kind of education they will get. Integration will certainly not be the result.

By banning the hijab in school we are oppressing the oppressed and not the oppressor. Its as if the French Government want the problem to become invisible so that they no longer have to face it on a daily basis.


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By banning the hijab in school we are oppressing the oppressed and not the oppressor. Its as if the French Government want the problem to become invisible so that they no longer have to face it on a daily basis.

Integration/Exclusion...very hard to debate on that Rowena.

Our country is based on a principle. The school system has been separated from the Church in 1905 (almost 100 years...)

This is not about beliefs but a way of life we are talking about, about public sphere and not private.

The French politicians (not only the gvt, and Laurent explained it very well) are struggling for this principle. An old one but which is the very basis, as far as I'm concerned, of our nation. That's why, for example, that we had some problems the Polish and Spanish gvts with a reference about religion in the European Constitution (it was not the only matter...).

Impossible to judge if you don't understand that. :lol:

Jean Philippe

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It is the case that this debate is q different in the UK where the minority Anglican sect has a privileged position in education.

Nobody in their right mind considers that wearing headscarves is a threat to the secular nature of the state education system in France. Le Pen and his gang of thugs think that it is an opportunity to attack a minority. The government is obligingly playing right into their hands.

It is true enough that girls who have refused to wear the hijab have been called names and intimidated. This is an issue which schools have to deal with. The government's heavy-footed intervention is unlikely to make matters better. It is not intended to. It is intended to appease the far right. Historically appeasing the far right always makes them stronger.

In this country, for example. nobody sings the praises of Blunkett's occasional racist outbursts more loudly than the BNP - who then go on to call him a traitor for letting immigrants into the country and allowing them to "swamp" our social services. Blunkett's intermittent attempts to pacify the BNP have just made their sick doctrines more "respectable".

Incidentally to claim that the abuse and persecution of muslims is not racism does not bear scutiny in a society in which racial and religious groups are more or less co-terminus

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"I don't think for a second that banning the wearing of religious symbols or items of dress is the answer"

The issues are far more important than a simple item of dress.

Thanks to all for this comparative thread, and particularly to Laurent and Jean-Philippe for the analysis of the French situation.

These complex matters, mainly political, are to be dealt with at a muti-scale level (globalisation, immigration consequences on Europe…).

Several remarks and questions :

- "As a socialist I value equality over religious freedom"

“ religious freedom”, or “clergies"‘s rule on societies ? ( what is the word for clergywomen ? )

In a democracy, what should be the legitimity of any clergy (a shrinking body in France, at least since 1965) to rule our political system ?

In European countries, how long did it take to go from religious wars to tolerance, from tolerance to “ liberté de conscience” ? Erasme, Milton, Voltaire, Victor Hugo... have written useful texts.


For the European museum to open in 2007, K Pomian opposes 2 groups :

“ Celle qui en reste toujours à une assimilation de l'Europe à la Chrétienté, et dont les porte-parole font semblant de ne pas voir l'apport des Lumières, pour ne pas avoir à dire que cet apport n'est, selon eux, que négatif. Et celle pour qui l'Europe est à tel point une oeuvre des Lumières que ses partisans ne souffrent même pas qu'on mentionne son passé chrétien”


- "I see the hijab as something that has the potential to emancipate women not subjugate them. The hijab takes away issues of beauty"

Ulricke has answered.

I thought sophisms was just an old Greek technique.

It seems to be still in use in our world.

Would you mean that the issues of beauty are not part of human life ?

Ancient history, part of our inheritage, proves the reverse.

- " Her main point in the article was that there is a fundamental conflict between our commitment to gender equality and the desire to respect the customs of minority cultures and religions"

How long did it take, in western democracies, for women to get their political, social, personal rights ?

- " the minority Anglican sect has a privileged position in education"

Can we, as a teacher, oversimplify our human life, and limit it, as some medias do, to a mere religious background? Laurent has suggested many historical, economic, social, personal readings of our individual behaviours.

To conclude, in 1993, most geographers disagreed with Samuel P. Huntington ‘s Clash of Civilizations.

In 2004, a religious led politics may put the world at risk again .

Edited by D Letouzey
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