From Headscarves to Beard and Bandannas

( [email protected] ) Jan 22, 2004 09:58 AM EST

PARIS – Teachers and some religious leaders are enraged over the new proposal made by the French government, which is to extend the ban from Christian crosses, Muslim headscarves, and Jewish skullcaps to beards and bandannas as well.

The new alternative ban came out Tuesday when Education Minister Luc Ferry said facial hair and bandannas should also be considered as religious symbols since they are worn as an alternative to the Muslim headscarves sometimes.

During a parliamentary debate, lawmakers questioned over the bill saying whether or not it is tough enough that the ban should cover “visible” religious symbols rather than “conspicuous” ones. The debate over the bill will begin Feb. 3.

Muslim leaders were divided, one side calling the ban on facial hair as “total delirium”, the other side said the street protests brought negative result provoking the government to go beyond the planned boundary.

Many school teachers and leaders are in shock on this new proposal as they are preparing for the new school year.

"Beards? Bandannas?" asked Daniel Robin, national secretary of France's largest union for high school teachers, "What next? This exercise has become absurd. Totally absurd.”

"I don't know how to respond to these questions," added Robin,. "Beards were never a problem before. Let's not create new problems."

Associated Press reported that President Jacques Chirac says the law's goal is to protect France's secular underpinnings. However, it also is seen as a way to hold back Islamic fundamentalism in the nation's Muslim community, at an estimated 5 million the largest in Western Europe.

Last weekend, up to 10,000 people, mostly Muslim women, marched in Paris and other parts of the world including England and Middle East to protest against the ban. The march was organized by the Party of Muslims of France.

The president of the Party of Muslim of France said what the government is doing is simply anti-Muslim.

"This law has become a farce," he said, "It's not up to the government to tell us if we can grow beards. It proves what we've been saying all along — that this law is anti-Muslim.”.

Dalil Boubakeur, president of the French council of the Muslim religion, who discouraged Muslims from protesting said, "Now, you see the repercussions. The government was toughening its position."

Boubakeur continued, "I told people not to demonstrate. I told them they'd scare French people — and this fear would result in France closing the door."