A very similar situation occurs in Quebec. Though headscarves are allowed in most contexts, visual signs of religious affiliation run counter to cultural principles here.
On one hand, we pride ourselves to be open to any religion. On the other hand, we’re still coping with the backlash from our religious past. In addition, religious tolerance now enters in the debate over “reasonable accomodations.” The debate has much less to do with gender than it does in France (perhaps because Quebeckers perceive their society to be much more liberated than French society seems to be). But it has a lot to do with the public/private dichotomy.
From a U.S. perspective, state-funding for religious schools seems to violate their very dear principle of the separation of Church and State. Yet, in Quebec at least, regardless of government politics, religion is taboo in civil society.
Comment from: Jane [Visitor]
Is is just the French? The Turks of Turkey are even more strict with that!! They just don’t let anyone with a headscarf to any public building, let alone just public schools. Plus, you cannot even take an official exam if you have a headscarf. Yet what the Turks do is overlooked very often. Someone should pay attention to this country.
Although originally Canadian, I moved to France 5 years ago. In the past couple of years, I’ve had many discussions with my French friends on this topic.
To being with, there is a strong backlash in France against high immigration in general and the Muslim minority in particular. Many of the French (non-immigrants) feel that they have too much political and cultural influence, and fear the cultural changes associated with this immigrant population. These fears are inflated by the Zenophobic right wing (led by LePen), who also blame France’s economic problems on immigrants. Although I disagree with these positions, they strike a chord with many French, especially the less well educated.
Consequently, when the politicians took the step of baning headscarfes, there was substantial support.
I believe that the baning of headscarfes (right or wrong) was done partly out of good intentions (trying to give Muslim women more rights, trying to reduce a source of discrimination and intollerance). However, the ability to win votes at the same time may well have influenced the politicians as well.
One might speculate that similar motivations have influenced recent banings of headscarves by certain UK institutions.
The secular position of the French government was also undoubtable a consideration. However, the working of the ban was unfortunate in this respect. If they had banned all religious symbols, or all religious clothing, they would be seen to have been even-handed. However, by specifically banning the headscarf, they gave the impression to the Muslim community that it was the Muslims that were being targeted, not religious symbols in general.