About headscarf ban
A maroccan friend of mine, who moved from France to the US about ten years ago, was recently asking me to explain all the local fuss about headscarf ban in public schools. Indeed, it deserves an explanation and I will try to give you one. n particular, I think it could be helpful for our american friends who don't understand at all the french position, and I understand perfectly why they don't understand it.
French history is a colonial history. Like a few other european countries. But only Spain, Italy and France stayed long enough in north-african countries to really get an arab and berber immigration from there. Algeria for instance was not only an overseas colon or an external territory attached to the French Republic. It was France, a french "département", just like Alaska is a US state. The status of the natives was not a status of full citizenship though, and when Algeria gained its independance, only the people of french ascent plus a small part of those who worked for French authorities were allowed to move back to France with a french citizenship. In the 1960's, France "invited" a lot of workers from north-africa to support its economic boom. Those workers were allowed to get a visa for the family even if they hardly ever got the citizenship. Most of them were lodged in poor suburban neighborhoods. Fourty years later, those places are still poor, and the state never injected the money needed to transform them into places where you can be (a bit) proud to live in.
In some areas, like Seine-Saint-Denis the well know 93rd département, some places around Lyon (some of the terrorists who bombed the paris métro a few years ago came from there), Strasbourg or Lille, the situation is even worse. After WWII, those places were abandoned by the gaullists to the communists. After all, the communist Resistance helped winning the war too. And better some "red" areas than a coup d'état. In these places, the gaullist power stopped all investment. On another hand, french communists were anything but city managers. They built cities the only thing you can think of as of today is "you have to destroy and rebuild everything". Immigration landed massively in these poor areas.
The parents did not acquire the citizenship, or still feel as "immigrants" if they got it. But that's not the case of the children. Citizenship can be acquired by birth on the French soil.. They are french, they vote. They know almost nothing about life in Algeria, and they could not live there because they are used to our western style of life. But french citizens show them they are not fully french. First, because of the physical aspect. I know, I know, I am myself the first generation born in France and having french citizenship by birth. The difference is the color of the skin, the hairstyle, the accent when I talk. That's sad, but that's like that.
That 2nd generation is born here, saw the parents suffering for the wealth of the french state, and sees that fourty years later, the parents still live in conditions they just can't stand any more. Can you believe that in some places, people have been asking for the right to build a Mosquee for 35 years and still don't get it?.. Come on. "What kind of future do we have" is the question that generation asks on a daily basis.
The result is the one you imagine : violences, drugs, rapes, crime. In such an environment, religion could only be winning. But with the influence of Algerian extremists, Afganistan talibans, Pakistanese fundamentalists and Saudi wahabites, the kind of Islam that appeared there is a strong Islam, proselyte and intolerant. Muslims from "black" african countries or Indonesia even express their concerns about it, saying that kind of Islam is a political Islam and has nothing to do with their religion, saying that they are french muslims living under the Law of the french Republic, not proselytes trying to instil an islamic way of life (and I mean here a fundamentalist way of life) in France. And they don't accept the reactions of the fundamentalists with respect to the situation in Israël/Palestine.
For those fanatics, a woman is an object. Lapidation is legitimate (I am not kidding, I heard a few days ago a fundamentalist islamic leader explain what is lapidation, why it's in the Coran and well hum ho why it's not so bad you know we don't apply it, for the moment). Polygamy is legitimate. For these people, Islam is not only a religion, Islam rules your life. And when I say "your", I really mean YOURS. It rules everyone's life and you'd better learn it, you bloody unbeliever. The scarf is not only a religious sign here. It's also a political sign. It's a sign meaning "we fight for the spread of the islamic truth all over the world and you're going to live with it, sooner or later, whether you like it or not". In other words, wearing the headscarf at school in the name of democracy is, for some people, a way of fighting democracy.
Of course, it's only a little minority of people. A very little one. Most muslims in France live their religion with tolerance and peace; with great respect for the laws of the country they are living in. But that minority, that one, is terribly dangerous. It is the seed for deep fundamentalism, and deep racism in return. And it uses democracy for its own needs, just like extreme-right always uses democracy to destroy it. Unfortunately, it's hard to make the difference between a normal scarf and a fundamentalist one.
Personal opinion : school has to remain the school of the Republic, a place where everyone feels the melting pot and where everyone gets the same chance of social extraction. Fundamentalists deny that to women. Women have to stay home, care for children, and wear a scarf. School is the only way girls can get another point of view if they come from such environments.
So after a long hesitation, I finally support headscarf ban. Well, it's not headscarf ban, it's, officially, a ban of all visible religious signs. Kippa, cross, everything. It may be a hard problem for Sikhs, even if the law was not made for them. But we all understand the primary target of the law is headscarves. (dont misunderstand me here, I have nothing against Islam in itself; and jewish fundamentalists are at least as dangerous as the islamic ones and a few jewish organizations in France really deserve to be sued for hate, racial segregation and a few other nice things).
France is a small country. Smaller than many US states. We have strong and historical links with Maghreb and Mashreq. We're not far away from the Middle-East, not far away from Bosnia. The separation between Church and State is more than two hundred years old, and we don't claim "In God we trust". We trust in peace and tolerance. And to preserve that against intolerance, it's sometimes necessary to be intolerant. That law is just about that, and religion is a concept that does not matter when we speak of preserving our State of Right. French people did not fight so many years against Catholic obscurantism to fall in front of another one.
Hope that helped understand a bit the complex situation here. If you post a comment, no flames please.