France: Reactions to the proposed law against conspicuous religious symbols

Source: FSSPX News


The announcement by the president of the French Republic of a proposed law against “conspicuous” religious symbols, has provoked a series of reactions, not only in France, but throughout the world.

First of all, from December 19, a reminder of the requirements of secularism in the form of a democratic profession of faith, by Mgr. Jean-Pierre Ricard, president of the French Bishops Conference: The State is secular. This neutrality in religious matters is one of the foundations of modern democracy. It carries with it a vigilance in order to ensure freedom of conscience, and to guarantee the free exercise of worship. This vigilance goes beyond simply allowing each person to express and practice his faith. It implies taking into account the social and institutional dimensions of religions in society. It is the responsibility of the State, to ensure the same respect, the same consideration to all the major religious families. It will achieve this by taking into account the diversity of these religious families, which do not all have the same history, the same conception of God, of men and of women, the same way of living the connections between the laws of religion and those of society. There cannot be an undifferentiated treatment of the “religious”, nor a united front for the defense of religions.

At the Vatican, a critique by cardinal Mario Francesco Pompedda, prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic signature, appeared in the December 21 issue of Il Giornale: “What secularism are we talking about? I can understand that the French State legislates on the fact that a teacher, a lawyer, a doctor, or members of the administration do not manifest their faith while they are at work in a overt way, and do not behave in a partisan manner, according to their particular religion. But to affirm that it is necessary to prevent pupils from wearing a distinctive sign, a symbol of their belief, is not secularism, it is an aversion against that person’s religion”. The Islamic veil would be a threat to secularism in schools “if it provoked disorder or division. But apart from some contentious cases that the school authorities have to settle, I do not see why those who wear a Christian cross, an Islamic veil or a Jewish skullcap in order to show their allegiance to a particular religious faith, should be prevented. That is trying to invade a private area, with the risk of ostracizing one religion or another”.

In the United Kingdom, a declaration from the head of the Anglican Church, Rowan Williams, in his Christmas sermon in Canterbury cathedral, where he estimated that that the French decision to ban the veil was uncharacteristic of France and that it expressed a century-old fear with regard to religion. The proposition to ban the wearing of the Islamic veil in French schools suggests that a certain tension remains, when it comes to public display of one’s religious commitment.

In Germany, where cardinal Lehmann, president of the German Episcopal Conference, responds to president Johannes Rau, who had advocated the same action with regard to the wearing of Christian and Muslim religious symbols. The prelate, in the magazine Focus, expressed doubts about the fact that Christian and Muslim religious symbols would be perceived in the same way by the population. The Cross and the religious habit are considered “high ranking religious signs” in which “the smallest trace of political propaganda can not be seen”. The Islamic veil, on the other hand, is not in itself a religious symbol. The cardinal sees in it a much more political significance.- The archbishop of Hamburg, Mgr. Werner Thissen for his part, considers it “incomprehensible that president Rau treats the question of the Islamic veil in the same way that he treats the signs of the Christian faith”, says the Hamburger Abendblatt. Whereas the Christian message advocates reconciliation and a community living in peace, the message conveyed by the Islamic veil is, to say the least, not very clear”.

In Belgium, two senators have brought in a law banning all “conspicuous” religious signs, from schools and administrations. This measure affects the wearing of the Islamic veil, and equally that of the Cross. It does not affect private schools. The senators Lizin (socialist) and Destexhe (Reform Movement) intend to introduce a law in Belgium, similar to the one which on the way to being adopted in France. They consider that such a measure is becoming urgent in Belgium. According to them, it would protect minors during their development, maintain the neutrality of the State, and above all, allow equality of rights between men and women.

In Lebanon, demonstrations of hostility towards France are increasing. The French press has hardly mentioned it. Hundreds of schoolgirls have thus demonstrated in the streets of Tripoli, against the decision of Jacques Chirac. The young girls, gathered in front of the offices of the Ministry of Education, at the request of the Association of Muslim students, and in cooperation with various Islamic institutions, chanted: “Our veil is our freedom!” “Secularism = Terrorism”, “Down with the terrorism of secularism”, could be read on a banner held by masked students. Addressing the crowd, sheik Ammar Chaabane, a leader of the Movement for Islamic Unification (MUI, sunni fundamentalist) declared himself “astonished at President Chirac’s stance, particularly as we consider that France’s position is in favor of our country, notably in Palestine, and in their hostility to the war in Iraq”.

At Saïda also, several dozen students gathered in front of the headquarters of the Union of the ulemas of Jabal Amel (shiite), to protest against the decision of Jacques Chirac. “Banning the veil is a plot against Islam and the Muslims” could be read on a placard held by one of them, dressed in a tchador. “Liberty is held up to ridicule in the country of democracy”, was written on another placard. Dozens of Muslim female students had previously demonstrated in Beirut, outside the French Embassy, to protest against Jacques Chirac’s decision.

In the Arab-Muslim world, from the Iranian president Mohammed Khatami, to the influential sheik of Egyptian origin Youssef al-Qaradaouni who has free access to the widely followed channel of al-Jazira, passing through the muftis of the main Arab countries, the calls to Jacques Chirac have multiplied. Sheik Qaradaouni has called for a mobilization in the face of the proposed law, exhorting Muslims during his Friday sermon, to address messages to the French president asking him to “revoke his decision”.

The mufti of Syria, sheik Ahmed Kaftaro, has written to the French President, asking him to reconsider his position, affirming that the “Muslim nation sees in the veil, one of the bedrocks of its religion”. In Bahrain, Islamic associations have announced the organization of an “imposing” sit-in outside the French Embassy, during which will be delivered a letter of protest to President Chirac.

The sunni mufti of Lebanon, sheik Mohammed Rachid Qabbani, went further, evoking a “hatred for Islam”. An opinion shared by the Muslim Brothers, whose guide in Egypt, Maamoun al- Hodeiby, has warned against “the hatred between France and the Muslim peoples”, that such a law would incite.

In Iraq, a shiite dignitary has called for a boycott of French goods, in protest against the decision of Jacques Chirac to ban the Islamic veil: “We condemn the decision of the French government prohibiting the Islamic veil and we ask ourselves, where is the liberty which France claims to embody”, said Sayyed Amer al-Husseini in front of more than 10,000 faithful gathered in Sadr City, the popular shiite suburb of Baghdad, according to the AFP.

On the other hand, in Egypt, sheik Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi,of the university of Al- Azhar in Cairo, affirmed, on the occasion of the visit of the French Minister of the Interior, Nicolas Sarkozy, that the Muslims established in non-Islamic countries should not take offence at the banning of wearing the veil, in official places. But he is alone, and is encountering strong opposition from fellow Muslim for this declaration.

While the wording of this law is being drafted, we can legitimately wonder what response all these reactions will have among the 4 to 6 million Muslims in France, under the influence of local imams.