French President Jacques Chirac, of all people, has “denounced Muslim head scarves on schoolgirls as offensive and expressed concern about Islamic fundamentalism Friday as momentum grew in France to bar all religious symbols from public schools.” This from Reuters.
What’s offensive about them? “Speaking on a visit to Tunisia, Chirac said the strictly secular French state could not let pupils wear what he called ‘ostentatious signs of religious proselytism’ and saw ‘something aggressive’ in the wearing of traditional Muslim veils.
“Chirac’s comments to pupils at a school maintained by the French government in Tunis sharpened the head scarf debate in France, in which popular concerns about Islam, women’s rights and Muslim immigration have developed into a broad movement to ban the veil.
“More than 60 prominent French women, including actresses Isabelle Adjani and Emmanuelle Beart and designer Sonia Rykiel, issued a petition Friday, urging a ban on ‘this visible symbol of the submission of women.’
“‘We cannot accept ostentatious signs of religious proselytism, whatever they are and whatever the religion,’ said Chirac, who is due to receive a special report on enforcing secularism next week in preparation for a possible ban.
“‘In our public schools, a veil has something aggressive about it which presents a problem of principle, even if only a small minority wears it.’
“Critics say banning a bit of cloth ignores the root cause of problem, the failure to integrate France’s 5 million Muslims into French society.
“Muslim women and girls argue that banning them would infringe on their freedom of religion.
“Only a handful of schools have expelled girls for insisting on wearing veils, but polls show a majority of voters favor a ban.”