Tuesday, January 20, 2004

"Exaggerate the influence of Islamists"

First France, now Belgium:

After France, Belgium is now mired in an emotionally-charged debate on whether to ban Islamic headscarves and other overt religious symbols in state schools.

Inspired by a planned French law, two Belgian senators have sponsored similar legislation to combat what they say is Islamic sexism.

"The veil amounts to oppression of the individual in the name of religion," said one of the senators, socialist Anne-Marie Lizin.

French President Jacques Chirac called last month for a ban on religious insignia in schools following months of fierce debate over whether to allow Islamic headscarves in state schools, which are officially secular.

The draft law, which parliament is likely to pass next month, has drawn protest across the Muslim world and in France.

Belgium has no such laws at the moment. But school boards have the right to take their own action, a right exercised recently by the Athenee Royal high school in Brussels, which has a high number of immigrant pupils.

"We have changed our rules to forbid the wearing of headscarves in the school because the situation was no longer tenable," said the school's administrator, Francis Lees.

"Some pupils have since left the school, but we have been able to break out of our ghetto," he said.

A French teacher of Moroccan origin at the school said he was convinced that if Belgium passed an anti-headscarf law, "most of the girls would conform with it."

"They're not going to play with their futures for the sake of that. We shouldn't exaggerate the influence of Islamists," he said.


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