Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The French "headscarf ban"

A bizarre one, this. The controversy has been knocking on for a while, since it was announced a few months back. Should the French state ban religious iconography from its schools? The muslims have been the most vocal in their opposition, but what about France's sizable Jewish population? Or, for that matter, the more observant of the Catholic majority who may wish to demonstrate their faith through those dinky little crucifix necklace things?

Now, of course, two French journalists have been kidnapped in Iraq, and their captors are demanding the abolition of the new law, which comes into effect at the start of the new school year (in a few days time). Radio correspondent Christian Chesnot and Le Figaro man Georges Malbrunot have been held by a group calling themselves The islamic Army in Iraq, who last week claimed to have executed an Italian journalist after Italy refused to withdraw troops.

How difficult it would be for France to overturn a piece of legislation over a 48 hour period (especially at a weekend) I confess to having no idea. But I imagine it would be rather hard. It would probably take the UK parliament at least a month, even if being pushed through at top speed. Normally it would take the best part of a year.

I personally reckon religion's only place in schools should be in Theology lessons. But I also don't think that the State has any right to dictate to me how I should behave when it comes to any spiritual beliefs I may or may not have.

What started as a point of political principle in France is going to end up costing lives. Whether you're religious or not, the lives should be more important. But, as always, it's not really that simple. Sadly the kinds of militant groups who are charging around taking hostages don't seem to understand the finer points of parliamentary democracy.

But then, in this case, does the French government understand the finer points of maintaining a free society? If, as they are maintaining, Church and State should be kept separate, which is why religion has no place in schools, does this not mean that the State should not interfere with the religious beliefs of individuals? And wouldn't this new French regulation count as a contravention of European Human Rights laws?

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