Watch What You Wear

 

The wider implications of France's head-scarf ban?

By BRUCE CRUMLEY

What will the French ban next: Red noses? Opponents of the proposed law to bar all "ostensibly religious symbols" in public schools have commonly denounced the project — primarily targeting head scarves worn by some Muslim women — as Islamophobic. But the prohibition may be much wider in scope. During questioning from the legal affairs committee of France's Parliament, Education Minister Luc Ferry said that in addition to the head scarves, yarmulkes and large crucifixes already set for interdiction, the legislation may also bar turbans, bandannas and even beards — if they were "transformed into a religious symbol, [and] thus fall under the scope of the law."

Ferry didn't explain who would determine when a goatee was "transformed" from mere facial hair into a religious symbol, or by what criteria that determination would be made. He stressed, however, that "dialogue and mediation will remain de rigueur" in solving disputes. Ferry also noted that the turbans worn by French Sikhs as a symbol of piety "are currently under discussion," and suggested that Sikhs, who number 3,000 in French schools, could wear "invisible hairnets" instead — even though the symbolic function would be the same.

France's 15,000-strong Sikh community has reacted with outrage, with leaders threatening to pull students from public school to avoid religious transgression. No word yet on the fate of Egyptian ankhs, wiccan pentagrams, New Age crystal pendants or Elvis lives T shirts.