France’s ban on abaya robes in schools draws both applause and criticism

Newly appointed French Education Minister Gabriel Attal arrives to attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, July 21, 2023, after a government reshuffle. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes Obtain licensing rights

  • Secularism is an important topic in France
  • In 2004, France banned the veil in schools
  • The education minister announced the ban on the abaya on Sunday
  • The move drew mixed reactions

PARIS, Aug 28 (Reuters) – French conservatives on Monday applauded a government decision to ban children from wearing the loose, full-length abaya worn by some Muslim girls in state-run schools, but the move also drew criticism. Criticism and some ridicule.

France, which has enforced a strict ban on religious symbols in public schools since 19th-century laws removed traditional Catholic influence from public education, has struggled to update guidelines for dealing with its growing Muslim minority.

A stricter brand of secularism, known as “lawyside,” is a sensitive topic, and one that often stirs tension.

“Our schools are constantly under scrutiny, and violations of licit have increased significantly in the past months, with (students) wearing religious clothing such as abayas and kameez,” Education Minister Gabriel Attal said at a news conference to explain the ban on Sunday.

Eric Ciotti, leader of the conservative Les Republicains party, was quick to welcome the move, stressing that his group had repeatedly asked for it.

But Clémentine Audain, an MP for the hard-left France Insumais, criticized what he called “clothing police” and “characteristic of a fanatical rejection of Muslims”.

The SNPDEN-UNSA union of school principals welcomed the move, calling for clarity above all else, its national secretary Didier Georges told Reuters.

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“What we want from ministers: yes or no?” Georges said of Abaya. “We are satisfied that a decision has been taken. We would have been happy if the decision had been taken to approve the abaya.

“We are concerned by the sharp increase in abaya-wearing (number of students). And we believe it is not our role to arbitrate, but the state’s,” he said.

In 2020, history teacher Samuel Bhatti was killed by an Islamic extremist, striking at the heart of the country’s secular values ​​and the role of teachers.

Sophie Venetitay of the SNES-FSU union said it was important to focus on dialogue with students and families, saying the ban should not mean children being taken from state-run schools to attend religious schools.

“And what is certain is that the abaya is not the main problem for schools,” he told Reuters, stressing that the teacher shortage was the biggest problem.

In 2004, France banned the veil in schools and in 2010 banned full-face coverings in public, angering some in its five-million-strong Muslim community.

A year ago, Atal’s predecessor, Bob Ndiaye, decided against going further and banning the abaya, saying, “Defining the abaya is not easy. It can be lost”.

Abdullah Zekri, vice president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), echoed the same sentiment, saying Attal’s decision was wrong.

“Abaya is not a religious dress, it is a form of fashion,” he told BFM TV.

Reporting by Juliet Zapkro, Tassilo Hummel, Bertrand Poussi, Ingrid Mélander; Written by Ingrid Melander Editing by Nick McPhee

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