Headscarf Controversy Puts French Muslims in Difficult Situation

September 12, 2004

Source: The Guardian

Wire Service: AP


On September 12, 2004 the Associated Press reported, "When 12-year-old Faten Ben Debaieb returned to school after summer vacation, she faced a painful choice: take off her head scarf or be expelled. For France's Muslim community, a similar dilemma loomed 2,500 miles away in Iraq. There, kidnappers were threatening to kill their two French hostages unless France lifted the scarf ban. For the French Muslims, the question was whether to stand by their opposition to the newly instituted ban, or go along with it in solidarity with their government. In the end, both went with the French flow: Faten shed her scarf, and the Muslim community sided with the government in resisting the kidnappers' demand. It was a defining moment in a long and bitter dispute. Worried by the rise of an alienated minority in its midst, France has over the past decade sought to coax into existence an 'Islam of France' compatible with French values and Muslim beliefs. The scarf ban is an important step in this effort, and the stakes are high. With an estimated 5 million adherents - almost a tenth of the population - Islam is France's second religion. The meeting of minds between the French government and Muslim leaders over the hostages produced a rare chapter of solidarity. But Muslims remain bitter about the scarf ban, and it is sure to be challenged in court."