Thursday, July 28, 2005

Free to wear the Islamic scarf

Following a law that the French Parliament passed about a year ago (more in this article), I am told that a lot of Muslims outside France think that women don't have the right to wear their so called Islamic scarf in public. Of course, this is totally untrue, as this photo obviously proves. The law only prohibits that any religious sign, such as Jewish skullcaps, large Christian crosses, Indian Turbans and Islamic scarves be worn at school.
I have never been able to decide whether I thought this was a good decision or not; after all there is freedom of religion in France.


  1. I tend to think it's a good idea. In other countries, they have school uniforms and it goes without saying that at school, none of those things are part of the uniform (even large earrings, dying your hair, etc... are disallowed). So really, I don't see the problem with saying: "while you're at school, you won't wear all these things, but when you're done with school at 16/18, you wear whatever you want".

    But you're right about the misunderstanding. Over here in Australia, many people thought the French hated Muslims because of the whole 'foulard' affair...

  2. Eric,

    I think that if you wear something that is a part of your religion, by forbidding the wearing of it in places that one must attend, such as school, that indeed is preventing religious freedom.

  3. Freedom of thinking and believes (don't forget to tell that even those who don't believe in a god are free to think it !) is important. The only thing is that you can't impose to others your "freedom", or others will also try to impose their "freedom" to you. And I'm not sure that not wearing a scarf, a skullcap or a cross is damaging your "religiousness".

  4. Hi,

    First of all, thanks for the daily photographs of Paris.I lived in Paris for 33 years (I left to Rennes, bretagne, last year and by the way, today's my birthday!)
    and I have to admit sometimes I miss Paris sometimes.
    Mais je vais continuer en français, pour vous dire que j'apprecie beaucoup ces photos de la vie courante, celle que je voyais lorsque j'y habitais (11ème, 17ème et 12ème).Pour un ancien
    Parisien, ce type de photo est bien plus parlant que les sempiternels Arc de Triomphe ou tour Eiffel).
    Sinon, l'interdiction du port(?) du voile à l'école me semble une bien mauvaise idée car après l'effet d'annonce, ce sont aux professeurs (qui ont déjà for à faire) d'assurer le suivi de cette loi et là ce n'est pas une mince affaire et engendre probablement plus de cacophonie et d'imcompréhension que d'harmonie.
    Qui eût cru qu'un bout de tissu (voile, kippa et autre) puisse engendrer tant de discorde...comme dit Souchon, "où en sommes nous, oû en somme nous.....)

  5. A great post Eric. The fact that we can criticise or support is one type of freedom many do not have. I think Chirac's timing was WAY OFF, but the Muslim community has been very calm about it. Yes, there have been protests, but that's a daily ritual in France. I remember seeing the hairdressers protest over working conditions once. If they can do it, then I suppose anybody can. Anyway, thanks for the great photo and post.

  6. If I was to travel, say, to Iran, Yemen or Saudi Arabia (God forbid...) with my wife, would she be free NOT to wear a scarf? Of course not! She would most certainly get lapitated on the spot if she didn't.

    So my point of view is this: in Rome do as the Romans do". I have personally always stuck to it.

    To me, wearing "the scarf" in France is an obvious sign of integration denial. Since our culture is slightly more open-minded than what it is in those countries, we more or less tolerate this anachronistic custom in our streets.

    However, I find it normal to prohibit it in public schools that should remain neutral and free from any ostentatious and/or proselyte behavior.

    Noteworthy is the fact that, while some girls fight in order to get the right to wear their scarves here in France, some other girls in Iran struggle against the Ayatollahs in order to be free not to have to wear theirs...

    We live in a crazy world.

    François, Lille, France.

  7. Does the law reinforce the rule in public schools only or does it cover private schools as well?

  8. To "Anomymous 2:12PM":

    This law applies to public schools. Private schools are probably free to enforce their own rule.

    François, Lille, France

  9. Interesting for a country that was such a champion of "tolerance" centuries ago, to have failed so badly on the immigrants integration front. Muslims are usually treated as second class citizens, and gathered in poor areas. Paris is no exception : it is even worse than anywhere else. But we do not have much pictures of "Chateau rouge" or "Barbès" in this blog. No pic either of teh 19th arrondissement, one of the poorest (19th is not only made of "Buttes Chaumont").

    Paris may spend fortunes in lighting the Eiffel Tower, that will not solve the heavy problems the country face at the moment. And integration of foreighers should be the top priority.

    Before "Paris Plage". That would make sense. Question of priority.

  10. I have myself havent decided as well (whether this was a good decision or not). anyway, the picture is good, and nice. hard to tell we're in paris, though... but that makes it all the more interesting.

    indeed, i guess "wearing the foulard or not" shouldnt have been the priority...

  11. are you sure there is still freedom of religion in france??

    school is a place where kids have to go to everyday, but it is also a place that does not allow students to wear something that is part of their religion. as my turkish friend said, such a rule would make younger generations "discard" their religion.

    she asked an interesting question, "how would you catholics feel if you are not allowed to go to church or to pray??"

  12. > Interesting remarks and comments. Thank you everybody, I have not had the time to come to each of you but I will this week-end.

  13. AnnaBanana : As far as I can judge, it seems that a school is not a place to pray. It's not a church, a temple or a mosquee. And going to school never ment that it's forbidden to go to church (or temple or mosquee, BTW).
    And why talking about "discard a religion" ? French "laique" school doesn't say "discard your believes", it only says "keep your believes for yourself".
    I don't believe in god. But I'm not trying to convince anyone with my opinions. That's what I think, that's all. And I believe that behavior might be the one that people having a religion must have : you can have a religion, it's your choice. But don't try to impose it on others. I think that's the meaning of the rules for school in France.
    For ending, does a religion really need those signs (cross, caps, scarves, etc.) ? Is'nt it enough to have it in your soul and in your heart ? OK, I'm not a specialist but I wonder...

  14. Sooooooo… I finally have some time to come back to you.

    > Sophie. “Over here in Australia, many people thought the French hated Muslims because of the whole 'foulard' affair...” French people surely don’t hate Muslims.

    My analysis is that they have been sort of “traumatized” with the Catholic religion that was pretty repressive – especially about sex and more particularly about women and sex and they are afraid that Islam brings them back to this situation.

    > Rock. I agree with you. A religion is something you are supposed to follow 24 hours a day and that includes school… So if wearing a scarf is part of your religion you should be able to do so wherever you go. That is what makes me wonder about this law.

    > Isido. I am not sure I understand exactly what you meant by “And I'm not sure that not wearing a scarf, a skullcap or a cross is damaging your "religiousness"." One thing is sure: if you are a religious person and that the society in which you live prohibits something that your religion tells you to do (wear a scarf, eat fish on Friday, don’t touch electricity on Shabbat…) it does damage your religious practice.

    > CyriletDeb. Well that is precisely the heart of the problem.

    In 1881-1882, when Jules Ferry established that school should be free, compulsory and religion free the Catholic Church started to lose ground. In other words our new religion became “Republic” and its laws would prevail over any other. Of course, this would include freedom of religion but it fact no; it would only “tolerate” other religions as long as they would not try to take over.

    In the beginning no problem; the Republican laws were pretty much the same as the Catholic ones (in 1900, for instance, it was socially unacceptable, for a women, to show her legs in public, to walk down the streets without her head being covered (reminds you of something?), even cut her hair, no to mention having sexual encounters before her marriage…

    Over the years the Republican laws have parted from the Catholic ones; it became acceptable to be a good person without going to church every Sunday, to eat meat on Fridays, to have children outside marriage, to take the pill, to abort, to “marry” a same sex person…

    In other words the Republican Religion evolved with time, whereas all other religions did stick to their foundation (Bible, Coran…).

    Now, the problem we are facing is that a religion (Islam) is trying to take over the Republican religion so this latter tries to defend itself exactly like the Catholic religion has tried to defend itself in 1905 when France voted that Church should be separated from the State…

    > Raphaël. Thanks for your nice compliments. As a matter of fact I do try not to shoot the classical monuments stuff but things that move me on a daily basis – and sometimes it can also be a monument!

    Pour les profs, c’est vrai que ça leur incombe, mais cette loi n’a-t-elle pas été faite pour eux au départ, car ils disaient qu’il leur manquait un cadre juridique pour traiter ce genre de cas (le foulard).

    > Michaël. I don’t remember of any hairdresser strike?! Anyway, yes the Muslims community on the whole is not too strict about their practice.

    > François. [You know you sign in with your name even if you’re not a Blogger user? You just pick “Other” in the comment section, put your name and possibly your email address or link to a site]

    Iran, Yemen or Saudi Arabia are Islamic States… They don’t claim they have freedom of religion. So if you go there you have to comply with the State laws which are the laws of Islam! What causes the discrepancy in France is that we claim Freedom of religion whereas it’s not true; our religion is called Republic, that’s all.

    And if you don’t think so, look more closely; it has everything of a religion: a pope (the President of the Republic), Priests (deputies, mayors, etc.), a bible (laws, customs, traditions…), ceremonies (Town hall Marriage, republican baptism…)

    > Elisabeth. Excellent post, that poses the problem extremely well. I thought this quote summarizes it all: “What do you do in a secular state when large numbers of people have begun to demand exception, when they say that significant zones of their lives are covered by Islamic law rather than by French law?” The French government answered that question by reaffirming the power of the secular state”.

    > Anonymous. Well, I don’t think we have ever been tolerance champions as you say. Far from that. Until recently, our only way of integrating immigrants was to turn them into the perfect average Frenchman. That would include: alcohol drinking, pork eating, no work on Sunday, money borrowing, equity between men and women (well, in principle!), nudity, etc. All this is unacceptable to Muslims. So they have no choice; stick together and be treated like “bad French people” or forget about their religion, disobey their god and become good Frenchmen. Have you got any idea of what it takes to somebody to do the latter?

    > Charlus. That’s right it could have been taken anywhere, although you can see the speed limit sign, which is very French! The “Foulard” was just a symbol (of a threatened Republic) does not matter if it’s a priority or not.

    > Annabanana. “Are you sure there is still freedom of religion in france??” you’re asking. Well, see above, but I am sure there is NO freedom of religion in France!
    But we like to think there is because it’s a comfortable thought.

  15. This is in French, but I found it interesting.

  16. And, if I may, for the French readers... J'ai également trouvé ça qui me semble être intéressant.

  17. I see this law as a mistake that ignores the issues that made it necessary.

  18. > Frankly Jack, could you please elaborate a bit more?
    And also I'd like to have your opinion (and the one of other readers of course) on the reason why practicly everybody in France was in favor of this law?

  19. Eric, je vais répondre en français (pas bien réveillé et pas assez bon en anglais...)
    Ce que j'entendais par le fait que "ne pas porter un voile ou une kippa ou une croix ne nuit pas à votre religion", c'est que, je suppose (je suis athée...), ta religion, tu l'as dans le coeur et l'âme. Donc, pas besoin de la montrer. C'est pas "je porte un t-shirt Friends pour montrer au monde que je les aime". Quant au porc, à l'électricité et autres choses du même genre, deux choses : pour l'électricité, cite moi un passage d'un quelconque texte religieux qui y fasse référence de manière explicite (je parle pas des foudres de dieu ou autres trucs du genre...). A partir de là, si l'on suit ce qui est écrit dans ces livres, c'est TOUS LES JOURS qu'on devrait pas utiliser l'électricité. Idem pour l'automobile ou Internet, d'ailleurs... Deuxio, le porc, le poisson du vendredi, l'alcool, ces interdits ont été fixés à des époques précises, pour des raisons précises, liées à l'hygiène et à la santé publique de l'époque. Ceci dit, le monde a un peu changé, l'intérêt de ces lois n'est plus. Ou alors faudra interdire le McDo le vendredi pour éviter l'obésité chez les gosses.
    Quant à dire que la république est une religion, j'ai du mal à suivre. La religion, c'est gravé dans le marbre, intangible ; les "croyants" n'ont aucun contrôle sur leurs chefs ; on est d'accord avec la globalité de la religion ou on est viré (ou tué à certains endroits). Côté république, on peut changer de président, de représentants, établir de nouvelles lois, s'opposer sans risquer sa vie (du moins en France). Pas tout à fait pareil. Et la différence, à mes yeux, est que la religion (ou la non-religion) est une affaire personnelle alors que la république est une affaire publique.
    Pour finir, ce qui m'ennuie un peu dans ton commentaire, c'est que tu parles beaucoup de l'intégrisme musulman (qui existe et que je déplore moi aussi tout en sachant qu'il ne représente pas tous les musulmans de France, loin s'en faut) mais que tu n'évoques pas l'intégrisme catho rampant qui montre le bout de son nez actuellement au travers notamment des créationnistes. OK, ils sévissent surtout aux USA autour de Bush, mais leur influence commence à se répandre. Et leur manière d'essayer de réécrire l'histoire à leur façon me semble bien dangereuse aussi.
    Dernière chose : moi j'ai l'impression d'une grande liberté de penser, en France et pour le moment (ca changera avec Sarko, je parie !). Nul n'est ennuyé pour ce qu'il pense à partir du moment où il ne cherche pas à l'imposer aux autres, c'est déjà énorme. Quant au "machin" de D. Martin, ça me rappelle l'imbécile borgne et ses "aime la ou quitte la". Ca pue un tantinet, non ?

  20. Hi Eric. I'm browsing your archives, and (of course) wanted to see the photo posted on my birthday. Wow! Quite the hot topic! I worked for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California ( for six years, just leaving this past April. We actually tried cases which led to the assurance of individual's rights to wear their religious icons and accoutrements to school.

  21. It's a good decision. Much trouble over this in Britain at present time, 2006. France is right to be strong. We have bent over so far backwards to accommodate immigrants and their culture that we are now falling over ourselves. More at my blog....

  22. ok sorry my link is, for whatshappenedtobritain, this - sorry im new to this!