Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

French Ban: Secularism in the Extreme

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

French Ban: Secularism in the Extreme

Article excerpt

French President Jacques Chirac's government took a wrong turn this week with its decision to ban students from wearing any religious garb in school. Already, Muslim girls in France are not allowed to wear headscarves in school, and Chirac extended the prohibition to Jewish skullcaps and "large crosses," saying that the secular identity of the nation was at stake. This is hokum, as anyone must realize. It is also a political measure that may do more harm than good, one that may fan the very flames of religious intolerance it is ostensibly designed to suppress.

The impulse behind the decision is clearly anti-Muslim. Five million Muslims now live in France, and there are fears that alienated Muslim youth may become recruits for militant Islam. The presence of a large Muslim minority is feeding social tensions within French society, which the right-wing National Front has capitalized on in recent elections, appealing to anti-crime, anti-immigrant feeling among French voters. Chirac's decision seems as much about minimizing the National Front's appeal to French voters as dealing with a real problem. According to a National Public Radio report Dec. 18, only four cases of Muslim girls wearing headscarves to schools were not resolved amicably in the last year.

Chirac framed his decision in the context of French history, calling secularism a pillar of the French constitution. Chirac said if France succumbs to the demand of its religious communities, "it would sacrifice its heritage; it would compromise its future; it would lose its soul. …

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