SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Unveiled racism in France

THE LAW banning the wearing of religious symbols came into effect at the beginning of the new school year in France. This law is racist and sexist because it is aimed at young Muslim girls more than anyone else. On top of that, it has resolved nothing: the majority of the school students remove the hijab (veil or headscarf) before they go into school, and put it back on when they leave.

Some supporters of the new law claimed that the girls are all active Muslim fundamentalists and that it was necessary to protect other school students from their influence. Now, the same students are going to school, but without the hijab.

Significantly, leading Muslim organisations which campaigned against the law – for example UOIF (Union des Organisations Islamiques de France), with significant numbers of Muslim students as members – accepted it once it was passed. When two French journalists were taken hostage in Iraq and threatened with execution if the law was not scrapped, they decided that it would be better to go along with the law rather than be branded as supporters of terrorism, an allegation which certain media outlets made sure they drove home.

Clearly, the hijab is a visible representation of the submission of women to god, father, brothers, etc. Firstly, however, it is a personal democratic right. Secondly, we are opposed to women being forced to wear the hijab. We are equally against obliging them to remove it. If the hijab can be taken as a sign of oppression, it is no more so than sexist advertising. It is certainly not by excluding girls from school, depriving them access to wider acquaintances and connections, that they will be emancipated.

If thousands of women have started wearing the hijab it is, above all, to protect themselves from the rise of sexism from numerous quarters, including advertisements, and from the rise of Islamaphobia, especially since the attacks of 11 September 2001. This is the background to the increasing numbers of young girls wearing the hijab. Even though they may feel that they are doing it from individual choice, the real reason stems from the absence of viable ways of combating these problems.

It’s not for the government to decide what we should think! Wearing the hijab is a democratic right, alongside other religious beliefs, philosophies or political convictions. This government is attempting to divide young people and workers – French or immigrant – restricting our rights in order to implement general social and economic attacks more easily. Behind pseudo-integration, lies the oppression of minority cultures.

In the end, the law against religious symbols was passed with little difficulty, despite the opposition of organisations such as Gauche Révolutionnaire, community groups and individuals, often coming together under ‘right to schooling for all’ collectives. The lack of action on the part of certain parties which claim to be on the side of the workers – for example, the support given to the government by Lutte Ouvrière, among others – was a big factor.

The only way to eradicate racism, oppression and the influence of religious fundamentalism, of whatever complexion, is to fight for a socialist society where the democratic rights of all would be respected, where education would be free and accessible to all. It is in that sense that Gauche Révolutionnaire continues to campaign against racism and discrimination.

Fatima, and Gigliola Passalacqua

Gauche Révolutionnaire, CWI France


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