RENNES, France, Jan 6 (Reuters) - Tensions between Moslem fundamentalists and France's lay school system bubbled to the surface on Wednesday as teachers at a junior high school in Normandy refused to teach Moslem students wearing headscarves.
Teachers at other schools in and around the northwestern town of Flers announced plans for a mass demonstration and strike on Friday in support of the teachers who have refused to report for work at the College Jean-Monnet since Monday.
The majority of the school's teachers walked off the job after education authorities ordered the school to take in a 12-year-old student of Turkish origin whose family insisted that she wear an Islamic headscarf to class.
On Tuesday a second Moslem student sought to be enrolled after presenting a letter from her parents saying she too planned to cover her head with an Islamic-style scarf in school.
Segolene Royale, junior minister for secondary education, sent a government mediator to Flers on Wednesday morning.
The current controversy has divided Flers, with a minority of teachers favouring the Moslem girls' enrollment and the town's association of Turkish residents criticising the girls as isolated cases.
Islam is France's second largest religion after Catholicism, estimated at four to five million people, most of them from former French colonies in North Africa.
Controversy has simmered in France for years over the extent to which the school system had to accomodate Moslem students. But the dispute in Normandy marked the first time the issue had flared up since the current leftist government took power in mid-1997. In 1994, the conservative government then in power issued rules banning "ostentatious religious symbols" from secular state schools. It said the ban applied only to Islamic-style headscarves, however, and not to similar religious symbols like crosses worn on necklaces or Hebrew skull caps.
Over a hundred girls were subsequently expelled from their schools
while several hundred others defied the ban.
The girls and their families said they were merely observing the
Moslem religion but the French government and many teachers argued the
scarves, as symbols of Islamic fundamentalism and the repression of
women, were preventing their wearers from becoming integrated into
Copyright 1999, Reuters News Service
There is a LOT more to the above article than meets the eye, since those sisters who desire to wear hijab will be opposed by not simply the lay school system, but also by the Mufti of France, Dalil Boubaker (more about him later).
Indeed, the picture of Islam in France is quite ugly. France was directly responsible for fighting Islam in North Africa for one hundred and thirty- seven years, and the French have never gotten over their defeat at the hands of the Muslims, and have hated Muslims ever since. Especially after hundreds of thousands of French missionaries adopted Islam. France is officially a secularist nation; a fact which is emphasized in its constitution, which maintains absolute separation of church and state. Unlike its European neighbor Germany (which chooses to send the Muslims back), or England (which simply ignores them), the general French policy is to assimilate the Muslims into its society by requiring all emigrants to leave their identity at the border. French functionaries like Dalil Boubakeur help make the process smoother.
Some time ago I visited Dalil Boubakeur's Paris central "mosquee". His office is guarded by a secretary without hijab and by several armed French police 24 hours a day. He is well known in Paris for promoting what is called, "French Islam" (which equates to "no Islam"). His rulings over the years have caused major problems for any Muslim who wants to assert his or her identity in France. His "fatwas" enjoy the backing of the French government (which recognizes him as the official "mufti"), and many are directly aimed at women. For instance, he made a "ruling" in 1995 that hijab is incompatible with French lifestyle and is thus haram. This came at a time when several Muslim sisters had been expelled from school because they chose to wear hijab. He also informed Muslim fathers that if they want their daughters to be respected in France, they should prepare them to marry kuffar.
In fact, I know a brother who went to the Paris central masjid when he was in high school, and one day noticed a young lady in the masjid without hijab. The brother went to the front office and notified the director who told him, "if you want a date with her, just go and ask her." It is not uncommon to see a bar located only one block from the mosque, full of Muslim men drinking booze on Jumuah.
Besides, it is common knowledge that the Paris mosque is not only the functionary of the French govenment but it is the extended arm of the Algerian anti-Islamic regime. This is the same Algerian regime which was exposed last year as being directly responsible for the massacres they have blamed on "fundamentalists" since 1992.
In fact, the French government is so paranoid by what it percieves as "fundamentalism" that a few years ago the Interior Ministry banned the importation of a number of Islamic books- even those known to be lax in their fiqh- such as Yusef Qaradawi's "Halal wal Haram fil Islam". In an interview with Foreign Affairs magazine a couple years ago, former Interior Minister Charles Pasqua said: "The majority of Muslims in France are loyal Frenchmen. But we have 50,000 to 100,000 who are influenced by fundamentalist doctrines, practice a hard-core Islam, and are guided in their conduct by the Koran, not the laws of the republic...We cannot allow such people to win in Algeria, and we can't allow them to affect our lives here."