Archive article from The Socialist Issue 332
French Government's Divisive Ban On Headscarves
ON 17 January 2004, demonstrations took place in many countries against the French government's proposal to ban the wearing of the hijab (headscarf) in France's state schools. Below we print a statement about this issue from the Committee for a Workers International (CWI - the international socialist organisation which the Socialist Party is affiliated to), as well as comments from members of Gauche Revolutionnaire (CWI, France).
FOR SOME months, a debate has raged in France about the right of female Muslim students to wear the headscarf or hijab in state schools.
The right wing has cynically used the language of 'republicanism', and the historic division of church and state, to launch a campaign against symbols of Islam. Some school authorities have actively campaigned to exclude students who attend classes wearing headscarves. In some cases, these campaigns were successful.
French President, Jacques Chirac, recently announced that he will support a law that forbids the wearing or displaying of "ostensible" religious symbols in state schools.
Chirac claims that this targets Christian and Jewish symbols, as well as Islamic symbols, and that only a few thousand wear the hijab. However, the law is generally regarded as a new attack against the five million Muslims in France.
The result has been to sharply polarise French society along religious, race and national lines. The ultra right-wing party of Le Pen, FN, of course, hopes to make gains in this charged atmosphere.
Many young women chose to wear the headscarf as a symbol of identity in a society where racism is rife. They also see it as protection against the influence of capitalist sexist ideology, which treats women as objects, most clearly in advertising and the 'entertainment industry'. It is also the case that many leaders in the Muslim community use the issue of headscarves to oppress women.
But it is wrong to think that a law banning female students' rights in schools will 'liberate' these women. In fact, Chirac's legislation will increase the strength and influence of the Muslim religious leaders. Only a united struggle of the working class, across all religious, race and sexual barriers, can win genuine rights for women.
The debate over headscarves has wider implications. The banning of headscarves at school is the first step towards banning all religious and political symbols. According to the International Herald Tribune (12/01/04): "Some politicians are calling for the ban to apply to political symbols in schools as well, such as the Palestinian kaffiyeh and T-shirts emblazoned with the face of the Cuban guerrilla leader Che Guevara."
Gauche Revolutionnaire (CWI in France) opposes Chirac's reactionary law on religious symbols. Socialists oppose all forms of discrimination, including along religious, sex, ethnic, and race lines.
All young people should have access to properly funded, public education and should have the right to practice their religion. No religion should have special status in schools. And students should not be told what they can and cannot wear.
The hypocrisy of the French government is shown by the fact it is not applying the "principles" of secular education in the private education sector, which is 95% Catholic.
Socialists stand for the unity of the working class against the real enemy - the bosses' system, which Chirac and the main parties defend. We are against either the state or religious leaders ordering any woman to wear a headscarf, just as much as we oppose attempts to ban women wearing one.
Against The Law That Forbids The Wearing Of The Headscarf
"IN CAPITALIST society it is the ruling class who, by the means of the media, advertising, movies etc, projects an image of women as objects without rights.
This sexist ideology influences a growing number of people, who in turn show a more disrespectful and oppressive attitude towards women.
Confronted with this, young girls in the deprived boroughs of French cities believe they can try and protect themselves by wearing the headscarf. For them, wearing the headscarf or hijab, signals that they are not "approachable".
The headscarf is also favoured by the leaders of the Islamist movements that use communal and sexist methods to divide workers and youth
If female students that wish to wear a headscarf, who are vulnerable because of their age and their situation at home, are excluded from schools, this will add to their isolation. They will be forced to stay at home, with a future imposed upon them by their family, or they will be made to continue their education at a private 'Koranic' school, where they could undergo even more subjection.
The wearing of the headscarf, just like the practising of a religion, is a private matter for the individual. It is not up to the ruling class to decide what is in our and our children's interests. That is why it is up to youth, teachers, educational staff, and the unions to explain what the ban on wearing the headscarf really means. And only through our struggles, against this capitalist society and for a democratic socialist society, will the full emancipation of woman take place."
Public Education Is A Right For All
"THE LAW against the hijab is a step to limit and then suppress political rights in the schools (mostly won during the school student strikes in the 1970s , in 1990 and 1998/99).
How can this government talk about women's rights when it is attacking the rights of public sector female workers and cutting subsidies for family planning?
Unfortunately, the 'Trotskyist' left organisations have helped Chirac. Lutte Ouvriere (LO) has declared that the law is a good thing because it will help teachers to fight against the headscarf. The LCR have said that they are equally against the headscarf and the law and haven't been able to campaign against this racist attack from the government. Teacher activists from LO and LCR actively campaigned for the expulsion of the two young school students, Alma and Lila, from their school in Aubervilliers, near Paris, last October.
Members of Gauche Revolutionnaire are actively campaigning against this law as well as waging a campaign against sexism and women's oppression."