France: ban on Islamic abayas in schools?
Headscarves are already banned in France’s schools. Now the country’s new education minister Gabriel Attal wants to ban abayas as well. Wearing these ankle-length garments is a "religious gesture", argues Attal, citing France’s strict secularism. The press is at odds over the planned ban.
A symbol of failed integration
Le Figaro hopes the plan will succeed:
“The battle waged by the education minister will be a long and hard one. Because the abaya is much more than just the abaya. This garment which highlights cultural differences is the result of unregulated immigration and failed integration. It is the symbol of a school system that is no longer capable of conveying the riches of intelligence, the joys of freedom and the pride of a common heritage. ... The young minister has shown that he has talent and nerve. Now he must show staying power.”
No rash measures, please!
First, the laws must be amended to provide more clarity, essayist Jad Zahab demands in Libération:
“While the laws of 1905 and 2004 are relatively clear on the prohibition of conspicuous religious symbols, they are much less clear on the subject of cultural symbols that might be misused for religious proselytising. ... Let’s not fool ourselves: France is not at war with any religion, any believers or any culture. Nevertheless, those who misuse clothing or signs of any kind to exert religious pressure must be stopped. ... The solution exists: the laws of 1905 and 2004 must be amended. ... The principle of secularism is not the problem, but the solution.”
Danger of stigmatisation
The motive behind the ban may be understandable for a secular state but it also carries certain risks, warns Oliver Meiler, France correspondent for the Süddeutsche Zeitung:
“The ban brings a polemical note to this rentrée scolaire — or start of the school year — no doubt intentionally. The centrist government and its president Emmanuel Macron want to do everything they can to appear resolute, even a little authoritarian, in order to counter the growing far right on a highly explosive topic. However, in doing so, the government again risks indiscriminately pointing a finger at the very population group that already feels most stigmatised — and not just on matters of clothing.”
Better to promote mixing at schools
The ban could further deepen the rift between the majority society and Muslims, warns the Neue Zürcher Zeitung:
“It’s understandable that the government wants to avoid the school becoming an arena for religious conflicts. But a ban on Islamic symbols will only fuel the conflict over the position of Islam and Muslims in France. Schools play a pivotal role in promoting their integration. But promoting more of a social mix at schools is more important than imposing a ban on the abaya. In the worst case, this would lead to Muslim women segregating themselves further and switching to private religious schools.”