Tuesday, February 10, 2004

French National Assembly Bans the Veil

I predict that the French will come to regret this move. Few courses of action could be better designed to alienate France's muslim citizens from their government.

PARIS (Reuters) - An overwhelming majority of France's National Assembly has voted to ban religious emblems in state schools, a measure Paris wants to keep tensions between Muslim and Jewish minorities out of public classrooms.

Deputies voted 494 to 36 on Tuesday to ban Muslim headscarves, Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses from state schools and threaten pupils who insisted on wearing them with expulsion.

The government insists the ban does not single out any religion, but cabinet ministers admit its main targets are the Islamic headscarves and anti-Semitic remarks from Muslim pupils that teachers say have become more frequent in recent years.

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In Washington, 47 members of the United States Congress protested to the French ambassador on Monday in a letter saying: "The proposed law threatens the religious rights of French children by forcing them to choose between school and religious practices that are central to their core values.""What is at issue here is the clear affirmation that public school is a place for learning and not for militant activity or proselytism," Assembly Speaker Jean-Louis Debre said.

Mr. Debre's statement is blatantly nonsensical. What is "militant" or "proselytizing" about simply covering one's head? And in order to maintain the charade that this is anything other than an anti-islamic measure, yarmulkes are now to be banned as well? Then there are the Sikhs to consider. This is state-sponsored religious discrimination, pure and simple, and those who champion such a measure in the name of "liberty" don't understand the meaning of that word. Liberty means the freedom to practice one's religion without actively harming others, not just freedom from religion.

I've long held that the true test of one's commitment to a principle is a willingness to champion it even when doing so would be to the benefit of people or ideas one dislikes; as such I was interested in knowing whether, given the events of September the 11th, 2001, the American government would be willing to abide by principle by clearly stating its opposition to this French initiative. It is disheartening, but not surprising, to read that only 47 members of congress were willing to protest the ban to the French ambassador; most people, whatever their station in life, don't really believe in the notion of permitting the expression of beliefs they find disagreeable.