The conflict in France between Islam and secularism has so far centered around the hijab, the headscarf that Muslim women and girls wear.
It has become symbolic of a larger challenge to France’s secular society: “A French school yesterday expelled a 12-year-old girl who refused to remove her headscarf in class, a family acquaintance said. The girl of Moroccan origin was the latest pupil caught in a wide-ranging debate in France over the nation’s separation of state and church and rules that forbid ‘ostentatious’ symbols of religion in public schools.” This from AP.
“Thomas Milcent, a convert to Islam who has been advising the girl’s parents, said a disciplinary commission at the Charles-Walch school in Thann, in eastern France’s Upper Rhine region, expelled her for ‘aggravated proselytizing and disturbing public order.’
“The girl, who had been suspended from classes since Oct. 13, and her parents were informed of the decision at a disciplinary hearing, Milcent told journalists. The clash between the girl’s family and the school again highlighted a long-running row in France over Islamic headscarves in schools.
“School authorities refused to comment. The school’s regulations forbid pupils from wearing headgear, including berets and caps. Several girls have been expelled from public schools this year for wearing the scarves.
“Politicians are divided on whether France needs a law to enforce bans on wearing headscarves in schools and public offices.
“Some proponents argue that Islamic fundamentalists are encouraging women and girls to wear headscarves, chipping away at France’s secular foundations. But opponents fear a law would marginalize France’s estimated 5 million Muslims, the largest Muslim community in Western Europe.
“A panel studying the issue, set up by President Jacques Chirac, is to report its findings by the end of the year. Chirac’s party, the Union for a Popular Movement, is expected to make public on Friday its official position on whether a new law is needed to regulate headscarves.
“In October, two sisters at a Paris high school were suspended for refusing to remove their scarves. The girls’ father, a Jewish human rights lawyer married to a non-practicing Muslim, has been fighting that decision with the help of an anti-racist organization. While virtually all politicians have declared themselves in favor of upholding the country’s secular tradition in state institutions, they are split over whether a law should be imposed which expressly bans headscarves and other religious wear, such as Jewish skull caps or Christian crosses.
“Last month, Chirac hinted strongly that he supported a ban on headscarves when he told an audience in the northern town of Valenciennes that secularism was ‘not negotiable.'”