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French Muslim students banned from school for wearing “long dresses”

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In yet further evidence substantiating the view that France’s obsession with the imposition of a very narrow and ahistorical conception of laicite (ahistorical because the secular movement in French history was about creating a neutral space away from the encroachment of the Catholic Church, not erasing signs of religion*) is in fact a political veneer for discrimination against French Muslim citizens, a school in the Paris suburbs has taken the step of threatening girls with exclusion, for the shocking misdemeanour of wearing “long dresses”.

For some girls, the move comes just two months before their Baccalaureate exam (A-Level equivalent), and this despite the fact they’ve not changed their mode of dress or encountered problems previously due to it.

The girls, who wear headscarves outside of school, had previously also been forbidden from wearing headbands deemed “too wide”, despite other non-Muslim pupils being allowed to wear them. The girls report that the school authorities compiled a list of girls who wore headscarves outside of school and challenged them on their wearing of “long dresses” in school, stating these represented an “ostentatious” sign, contravening school regulations.
The girls are now protesting the exclusion on the grounds that the long dresses are not a religious sign and that other non-Muslim pupils, including a male gothic student, are permitted to wear long garments without harassment. They also report the significant and disruptive impact this measure is having on their ability to study and their feeling of ostracization in school and society more broadly.

This is just the latest example of the differential treatment and singling out, afforded to French Muslims in France today and comes as no surprise to those aware of the contrived justification for the ban on headscarves in French state-run institutions.

Adding ignorant insult to outrageous injury, a school official stated: “Et pourquoi ne vous habillez-vous pas comme tout le monde ?! Et pourquoi ne mettez-vous pas un teeshirt et un pantalon comme tout le monde ?! Et qu’est-ce que vous portez en-dessous de votre robe ?! ”
Translation: “Why can’t you dress like everybody else? Why won’t you put on a t-shirt or trousers like everybody else? And what are you wearing underneath that dress?!”

You can listen to the girls’ testimonies here (in French):

*For more on the origins of laicite in France, I recommend looking at the founding texts:
• loi de 1905
• l’arrêt du Conseil d’État de 1989
“Sans référence explicite à la laïcité, la loi de 1905 en fixe le cadre, fondé sur deux grands principes : la liberté de conscience et le principe de séparation. La République “ne reconnaît, ne salarie, ni ne subventionne aucun culte”, mais, ce faisant, n’en ignore aucun. La loi de 1905 a supprimé le service public des cultes, mais la religion n’est pas une affaire purement privée, et l’exercice des cultes peut être public.”

Translation: “Without explicit reference to laicite, the law of 1905 fixes its parameters, founded on two central principles: freedom of conscience and the principle of separation. The Republic ‘does not recognise, provide salaries nor fund any religion’, but this said, it ignores none. The law of 1905 eliminated the public service of religions, but religion is not a strictly personal matter and the exercise of religions can be public.”

The question now is, in what way do schoolgirls in headscarves, bandanas or long dresses, really pose an affront to the core values of laicite….the answer is, they don’t. But anything related to Muslims and issues of national identity makes great political fodder…

Written by Myriam Francois

March 24, 2011 at 14:15

One Response

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  1. This one’s difficult to defend, even for those who insist the ban against religious symbols isn’t targeted at Muslims. It seems perceived intent is being judged, a route every citizen should be apprehensive about.


    April 5, 2011 at 00:52

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