French Muslims ready to turn scarves into fashion

PARIS (AP) – Faced with a government proposal to ban “conspicuous” religious symbols from schools, France’s biggest Muslim fundamentalist group says it will advise girls to convert their head scarves into discreet head coverings that can pass as fashion.

Then the students can tell school officials that the scarves have nothing to do with religion, said the Union for Islamic Organizations of France.

“They can say they are wearing this for philosophical reasons, aesthetic reasons,” said Lhaj-Thami Breze, president of the group. “Girls can tell school officials, ‘I do this for my beauty.'”

The bill, which also would forbid Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses, was debated this week in the National Assembly. It’s expected to pass next week and take effect with the new school year in September.

Lawmakers have grappled with the bill’s wording along the way, eventually compromising by agreeing to review next year whether “conspicuous” should be replaced with the less ambiguous “visible.”

Some also say they want the measure examined to see if it is in conflict with European Union directives on employment and race equality.

“This law has unintended consequences. It has a blanket effect,” said legislator Claude Moraes.

President Jacques Chirac has said the law is needed to protect secularism, or the French tradition of separation of church and state. The bill’s backers deny it is an assault on Islam, as Muslim critics are insisting.

“It’s not about banning the head scarf in French society. It’s about re-establishing spaces of neutrality and peace” in public schools, said Alain Juppe, head of Chirac’s party.

Other critics say the ban is a crude effort that will stigmatize a growing Muslim minority and fail to address the real problem: their integration into the mainstream of this historically Roman Catholic country.

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