French ban on abayas in schools draws applause and criticism –

French conservatives applauded the government’s decision on Monday (August 28) to ban children from wearing the abaya, the long, loose dress worn by some Muslim women, in public schools, but the move also drew criticism and jokes. .

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

Strict secularism, known as “secularism,” is a sensitive subject and often quick to trigger tensions.

“Our schools are continually put to the test and in recent months, attacks on secularism have increased considerably, particularly with the wearing of religious outfits such as abayas and kameez,” declared the Minister of Education Gabriel Attal during a press conference to explain Sunday’s ban.

The leader of the conservative Les Républicains party, Eric Ciotti, was quick to welcome this decision, stressing that his group had requested it several times.

But Clémentine Autain, far-left France Insoumise MP, criticized what she calls the “clothing police” and an approach “characteristic of an obsessive rejection of Muslims”.

The school directors’ union SNPDEN-UNSA welcomed this decision, believing that it needed clarity above all, its national secretary, Didier Georges, told Reuters.

“What we expected from ministers was: yes or no? Georges said of the abaya. “We are satisfied because a decision has been made. We would have been just as happy if the decision had been to allow the abaya.

“We were worried about a big increase in (the number of students) wearing the abaya. And we believe that it was not our role to arbitrate, but that of the State,” he said, referring to concerns about the security of leaders.

In 2020, history teacher Samuel Paty was killed by a radical Islamist in an attack that struck at the heart of the country’s secular values ​​and the role of teachers.

Sophie Venetitay, of the SNES-FSU union, said it was essential to focus on dialogue with students and families to ensure the ban does not mean children will be removed from public schools to attend schools religious.

“And what is certain is that the abaya is not the main problem in schools,” she told Reuters, stressing that the lack of teachers was a much bigger problem.

In 2004, France banned the wearing of headscarves in schools and banned the wearing of full-face veils in public places in 2010, angering some members of its five million-strong Muslim community.

Less than a year ago, Attal’s predecessor, Pap Ndiaye, decided not to go further and specifically ban the abaya, telling the Senate that “the abaya is not easy to define , legally… this would bring us before the administrative court, where we would lose.” “.

Abdallah Zekri, vice-president of the French Council of Muslim Worship (CFCM), made a similar point, saying Attal’s decision was wrong.

“The abaya is not a religious garment, it is a kind of fashion,” he told BFM TV.

Find out more with EURACTIV

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