French Muslims Lash Out at Planned Headscarf Ban

PARIS (Reuters) – French Muslim leaders lashed out on Monday at a planned law that would ban Islamic headscarves from public schools and said Muslims were becoming the target of a growing hate campaign which police did nothing to stop.

In a strongly worded statement, the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) said Muslims in France felt deeply worried that the law meant to ban all “noticeable religious symbols” in the name of equality and secularism was actually aimed at them.

The CFCM spoke out after two days of talks with regional Muslim leaders alarmed by a government plan to rush through a ban on religious symbols in public schools and hospitals. One major Muslim group called for protests and petitions against it.

President Jacques Chirac said last month the law would also apply to Jewish scullcaps and large Christian crosses. But few of them are seen in French public schools, leaving the more numerous scarf-wearing schoolgirls as the law’s main target.

“The CFCM expresses the Muslim community’s profound concern that the only concrete act the government plans…is a draft law that makes them feel stigmatized,” declared the statement signed by the CFCM’s moderate chairman Dalal Boubakeur.

It noted with disappointment that Chirac announced this in a speech devoted mostly to “recognizing Islam as France’s second-largest religion and fighting against discrimination.”

“The CFCM regrets that cases of Islamophobia are multiplying across France, despite (current) law and without any of these discriminatory acts being punished,” it added.

“AMAZED AT EXCESSES”

Chirac announced the planned ban amid growing concern over Islamist influence among France’s five million Muslims. It met widespread approval among non-Muslims — an important boost for the government before difficult regional polls in March.

The CFCM cautiously expressed disappointment at first, but a growing chorus of angry criticism from grass-roots Muslim groups has clearly prompted it to take a stronger stand.

“We were amazed at excesses we heard about,” Khalil Merroun, rector of the large Evry mosque outside Paris, told the daily Liberation after meeting regional Muslim leaders on Saturday.

“They told us about veiled women being yelled at on the streets, banks that turn them away because they wear a headscarf and a doctor who put up a sign in his waiting room saying ‘I refuse to treat veiled women’,” he said.

The CFCM called on parliamentarians, who are due to debate the law in the coming weeks, to make sure the text is balanced and urged Muslims to stay calm in “these difficult moments.”

While chairman Boubakeur has tried to work closely with the government, one of the CFCM’s main member groups — the Union of French Islamic Organizations (UOIF) — urged all Muslims on Monday to support protests and petitions against the law.

Several Muslim groups linked to the UOIF have already called for a march against the law in Paris on January 17.

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