Rift Between Muslims and Non-Muslims Widens

March 7, 2004

Source: Baltimore Sun


On March 7, 2004 the Baltimore Sun reported, "As one way to protect itself against religious extremism, the French government is clamping down on religious symbolism. This month the French parliament approved a ban on head scarves in public schools; its passage into law is expected this spring. The logic of the legislation works like this: For a Muslim to become a religious extremist is to first embrace Muslim symbols - head scarves for women, beards for men. Eliminating as many of those symbols as possible, the logic continues, removes this step to extremism. 'France cannot be a playground for fundamentalism, and that's the direction it's heading,' says Herve Mariton, a member of parliament who served on a committee that created the head scarf ban. 'We are drawing a line to protect French society, to prevent this move toward extremism.' But the legislation has backfired. Tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims - and between Muslims divided by the ban - have increased in a country where integration has been a problem since the influx of North Africans began in the 1950s. Thousands of Muslims - most of them young and many who kept their religion in their homes and mosques, just as the French government preferred it - have taken to the street in protests and have, for the first time, found themselves politically aligned with true extremists."