Do the French favor diversity?

Read Jacob Levy on the new French measure to ban private individuals from wearing conspicuous religious symbols in the classroom. This would include Islamic headscarves, Jewish yarmulkes, and “large” Christian crosses. Don’t even ask about the Sikhs, who are obliged to wear turbans as their hair grows long. Here is a brief excerpt from Jacob’s analysis:

The proposed law is really quite repressive. One item that hasn’t been much mentioned in the English-language press is that it also prohibits wearing any visible political symbol (buttons and badges and so on). One article I read about that proposal in Le Monde last week made quite clear how arbitrarily that will be enforced, with school administrators drawing their distinctions between what is and what isn’t political. An AIDS ribbon? An anarchist’s A button? A button in support of SOS-Racisme? One administrator said that that wouldn’t be prohibited, because anti-racism, isn’t a political value but a republican value. But the ban clearly isn’t restricted to a bright-line rule against partisan affiliations, either. It is going to leave tremendous discretion in the hands of principals to ban what they dislike and allow what they like.

Here is more:

It is, always, all about France and the French state, never about the conflicting obligations in conscience felt by committed religious believers.

Chirac’s announcement– which was not a surprise– referred to ‘the Islamic veil, under whatever name one gives it.’ This is a recurring rhetorical device of the laicitists. There are, as far as I know, no reported incidents of French Muslim schoolgirls attending school actually veiled. French Islam is not, as a rule, that conservative. What is at stake is headscarves, and the incessant use of “voile” instead of “foulard” is an attempt to elide the difference between committed believers and fundamentalists.

Worst of all, it is estimated that about 2/3 of the French public support this measure. The only bright side is that France’s reputation in the Arab world is likely to take a big hit.


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