|It appears the French Government sees beards and turbans as a “requirement” for the Sikhs - New York Times|
Published: January 21, 2004
PARIS, Jan. 20 — And now for the bandanna ban.
On Tuesday, Luc Ferry, the minister of national education, went even
further than Mr. Chirac, telling the National Assembly's legal affairs
During the two-hour debate on the proposed ban, lawmakers wanted to
know why the draft law was worded to ban "ostensibly" religious
symbols and not
Mr. Ferry explained that the wording afforded the state the ability
to broadly interpret what constitutes a religious symbol and prevent
"If we had chosen the word `visible,' we could have seen the appearance
of other signs," Mr. Ferry said. For that reason, he explained,
"The bandanna, if it is
Mr. Ferry did not define what constituted a religious bandanna, how teachers would decide what was an "ostensible" sign of religion or how the new law would be enforced.
Asked to define a bandanna, an official assigned to deal with press
inquiries in the ministry, who spoke on the condition of anonymity,
said: "There is no
The respected French Larousse dictionary defines a bandanna as "a small cotton square of lively colors, usually worn as a scarf."
When one deputy asked about beards, Mr. Ferry said that even they might
be a no-no, Reuters reported. "As soon as it becomes a religious
sign, it would fall
By contrast, the turban of the Sikhs, if it were to remain "discreet," would be allowed, he said.
The law banning religious symbols in schools was intended to help enforce adherence to strict secularism in the public domain and to prevent more Muslim girls from wearing veils to school.
But the move has set off angry denunciations of France for violating religious freedom, and counterclaims by the French government that it is deeply misunderstood.
Many French school administrators oppose the law, arguing that it is
impossible to enforce and will only create more divisiveness. For them,
the bandanna ban
Many prominent Muslims around the world have voiced their opposition, including Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian human rights lawyer who recently won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Even Pope John Paul II has weighed in. He told Vatican diplomats last week, without specifically mentioning France, that religious freedom in Europe was endangered by people seeking to ban religion from the public sphere.
That prompted Bernard Stasi, who led the French commission proposing the ban, to dare to criticize the pope. "I regret that the sovereign pontiff is misinformed," Mr. Stasi said in a statement in Le Monde that appeared on Tuesday.
Mr. Ferry blamed tension between Jews and Muslims for recent anti-Semitic attacks in France, and said he wanted to calm things down. "I tell representatives of Islam, `Do you want your children to fight at school?' " he said to the deputies.
Asked about the bandanna ban, Catherine Colonna, Mr. Chirac's spokeswoman, said, "The future law must not allow people to bypass it the way certain individuals and groups already seem certain to do."
Indeed, in an interview in Tuesday's issue of the popular tabloid Le Parisien, Mohamed Bechary, president of the National Federation of Muslims of France, urged female students to circumvent the law. "Who will define what is ostensible and what is not?" he asked, adding that he recommended "the discreet wearing of the scarf — be it a bandanna, a cap or a hat."
Other leaders of local Muslim communities in France have also advised female students to find ways around the ban by wearing a head covering that could be interpreted as a fashion statement rather than a symbol of Islam.
As fashion, bandannas in France have tended to follow the American lead. Traditionally red and white or blue and white print and a symbol of the American West, they became an accessory among rap musicians and in inner city street culture.
Although some ready-to-wear designers have used bandannas in their shows over the years, such common street fashion has not been on display in the current haute couture shows in Paris. The long-haired fashion designer John Galliano, however, wears a signature bandanna tied pirate-style at the back of his neck.