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September 08, 2004

More on French Headscarves

The subject of the assimilation of the most recent wave of immigrants to France--largely Muslim, these mostly drawn from former French colonies in North Africa--has been a subject frequently debated on GNXP, as a subject worthy of interest on its own terms and as a bellwether for events elsewhere. Reading the Toronto Globe and Mail and other news sources, it's been interesting to note how much of a non-issue the event has been.

For a variety of reasons, most of which I've written about on my livejournal, French officials, the French public, and an apparently large majority of French Muslim women support the ban on headscarves in the French public school system as a way to try to deal with conservative misogyny in their communities. As I've written, it's the least bad manner; certainly, it's better than deciding that they should accustom themselves to second-class status because they're Muslim.

There are fears that it could prove counterproductive, mind, at least for a minority. Recently, Philippe Le Billon, assistant professor of geography at the University of British Columbia, wrote in an opinion piece his fear that the ban on headscarves

could prove counterproductive, resulting in some Muslim girls being banned from attending school -- precisely the kind of exclusion the French government says its law is designed to prevent. It will also reinforce socially conservative, gender-based discrimination within Muslim communities.

And the actual results?

About 100 French Muslim girls have refused to take off their headscarves in school despite a government ban on "conspicuous" religious insignia in state schools, Education Minister Francois Fillon said Wednesday.

"There are about 100, between 100 and 120" girls who have refused to heed the controversial "secularity law" that took effect last week with the start of the academic year, Fillon told Europe 1 radio.

This, mind, out of a total population of 12 million students, of which perhaps 15% are likely of nominally Muslim background given demographic patterns. Many of the young French Muslim women who did wear the hijab did so more as a brief challenge to authority than out of profound religious belief, as Doug Saunders, writing for the Globe and Mail, discovered:

"I'm not doing this as a protest, and in fact I do think I'll stop wearing the hijab on Monday," she said, using the Arabic name for the head scarf. "I'm mostly just confused -- my family and my faith want me to cover my hair, but my nation wants me to keep it uncovered. I'd like to be French and Muslim, but I'd rather be French. Maybe I'll wear a colourful bandana, which doesn't break the law."

So. The young generation of French Muslims--certainly women--see themselves as more French than Muslim; or, perhaps more appropriately, see their religious background as secondary to their national background. This doesn't exactly indicate a failure of the French melting pot.

I fear we'll have to wait a while for la République islamique de la France.

Posted by randymac at 08:43 PM