In Solidarity over the next few issues, and on this website, we will be publishing translations of views from the French left on the issue of the law and the headscarf.
This first text is a leaflet produced by the Ligue Communist Révolutionnaire last month.
Background: in Britain, many religious schools are part of the state system, and religion in schools is usual, indeed compulsory. France is different. Religion is not allowed in state schools.
The country has a long history of sharp political battle between secularists and clerics, dating right back to the days of the French Revolution of 1789. To this day, church-going is the best predicter of political alignment in France. Devout workers are more likely to vote right-wing than atheist bourgeois.
The veil means oppression of women
The wearing of the Islamic headscarf expresses oppression and inferiority of women. It publicly symbolises the subordination of a woman's body to the authority of her father, brother or husband.
Individuals' wearing of this religious insignia can take different meanings, depending in particular on girls' ages. Some wear it from family pressure, from tradition, from conviction, or to protect themselves against sexist harassment.
But, in the public sphere, it always signifies adhesion to a religious community and the inferiority of women vis-a-vis mean.
In every society where veiling is generalised, women's rights have been pushed back on every front: the right to work, to study, or even to receive health care on a basis of equality with men. Men and women should live together as equals, without insignia separating them, without discrimination.
We do not need a law to combat the veil
The Stasi commission has just published its report. [President] Chirac is about to announce a new law. But there is no need for a law.
The projected law is not about developing secularism. It is a law to stigmatise the Muslim religion as the only one responsible for attacks against secularism.
In [the region of] Alsace-Moselle, the state institutions, the schools, and the public services are not secularised. The priests are paid by the Ministry of the Interior. Religious instruction is compulsory in state schools. Catholic alms-boxes are installed in military institutions and schools.
The Stasi commission does not propose to do anything about these religious privileges.
A law such as the one proposed would appear as further harassment to a population who have been receiving only negative and discriminatory messages.
It would make an amalgam of political and religious insignia [both to be banned by the proposed law]. Is a young person wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt the same as one wearing a veil?
No legislation can replace, in schools for example, an educational team's assessment of the actual meaning of the wearing of a religious insignia. The necessary dialogue, mediation, time for thought, and moment of decision cannot be laid down in legislation.
Break down the ghettos, win equal rights
In order to avoid having young people taking refuge in a regression to the worst of traditional religion, we need a different policy.
We have to break down the ghettos; demand massive social investment in the [pauperised] suburbs, improved living conditions, increased wages and benefits, more jobs. It is unemployment, poverty, and exclusion which push communities to take refuge in communalism.
Instead of stigmatising minority communities, we need guarantees of the right to work; equal rights, including the right to vote [denied to immigrants in France]; a ban on discrimination, for example in job hiring or for entry into clubs; a halt to treating immigrant families as scapegoats.
Yes, we need more public services, like education and health. But public services open to the whole population, secular, and thus clearly separated from all religious links.
The defence and the fight for these rights, and the battle againt women's oppression, can only come through the mobilisation of those involved, their own social and democratic struggle.