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Feb 2004 Journal

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Let's not be heedless over the headscarf! (editorial)

It is an incontrovertible, if inconvenient, fact that different societies evolve at a different pace. Some fail to evolve altogether, but regress. Around 1000 AD China could justifiably have dubbed Europe 'barbaric', yet today millions of Chinese practise female infanticide. Around 1300 AD the Muslim Emirate of Cordova was a haven of multi-culturism; today the Arab League doesn't number a single democracy among its 22 member states.

Simultaneously, President Chirac stands accused of destroying French multi-culturism through his ban on the wearing of the hajib at school.

The headscarf is considered an intrinsic symbol of Islamic female identity - but what purpose does it really serve? To hide a woman's hair - in other words, part of her sexual allure. More radical devices for stripping women of their dangerous seductiveness are, of course, the veil and the burquah. All these items of apparel are about more than sex: they exemplify women's subordinate status in Islamic society.

If pupils could wear the hajib in French schools, non-wearers would be targeted and bullied by their clergy-indoctrinated peers (millions of Saudi petrodollars are annually transmitted to France for the construction of mosques and Islamic academies).

Chirac's law safeguards girls in the chrysalis stage of their development against fundamentally inspired peer pressure. What has been represented as a restriction on religious freedom, in fact, helps to emancipate the weakest section of Muslim society from the tutelage of men - whether they be mullahs, fathers or husbands.

I anticipate that for writing the above I will be accused of illiberalism and of condoning Chirac's ban on the wearing of Jewish skull-caps in schools (actually, I am not convinced that the Bible enjoins head-covering in public places.)

My rejoinder to the charge of illiberalism is incipiis obsta or wehret den Anfängen (resist the beginnings). For Islamists the hajib is only the opening shot in a campaign that would expand into demands for no sex education, no sport for girls, no swimming, no mixed classes, no teaching of pupils by members of the opposite sex, etc.

Freedom can be either 'of' or 'from'. There is such a thing as freedom of religious belief - as well as freedom from religion. In Britain Anglicans, Nonconformists and Catholics have happily coexisted since the 1780s. France struggled long to free itself from Catholic hegemony, until the law of 1905 established laicité (secularism) as the governing principle of state education. The 1905 Reform amounted to more than legislative change; it could be described as a shift of tectonic plates on which the edifice of the French state stood. By appropriate coincidence the new reformist government included Georges Clemenceau, in whose newspaper L'Aurore Emile Zola had published 'J'accuse', the article that famously turned the tide in the Dreyfus trial. The collapse of the charges against Dreyfus had gravely undermined the standing of three pillars of the French establishment: the judiciary, the army and - particularly relevant in this connection - the Catholic Church. Ever since 1905 - except for the Vichy years - French pupils have had a day off from school, when they can have religious instruction of their parents' choice.

One can draw a loose parallel between Clemenceau, the originator of the Law of 1905, and Ataturk's reforms in 1920s Turkey. The 'father of the Turks' abolished the veil and the fez in favour of Western dress, and substituted the Latin for the Arabic script. The long-term consequence of this is that Turkey is now a semi-Westernised Muslim nation, and a member of NATO. Also there are as many Turkish guest workers in Germany as North African immigrants in France - yet one hardly ever hears of the former attacking Jewish synagogues and schools, as almost routinely happens in France.

Chirac has a deplorable record in foreign affairs as the profit-oriented contractor for Saddam's nuclear reactor, and a subverter of the Atlantic alliance - but his stance on matters of race and religion is to be applauded. France has five million Muslims (compared to the UK's two), whose not entirely unjustified discontent over social conditions in the bidonvilles where they live offers a fruitful field for exploitation by Islamo-Fascist agitators. Islamo-Fascism is the ideology - composed of rejection of Western democratic values, attachment to Sharia Law, rule by mullahs and the subjugation of women - which inspired the Taliban and the horrendously sanguinary Algerian Islamists. It's most visible recent expression is Iranian President Khatamu's rejection of proffered earthquake relief from Israel. Iran's acceptance of help from America, the 'Great Satan', but not from Israel, the 'Little Satan', shows the ayatollahs to be as infected with antisemitism as the Nazi leadership.

next article:Some rulers of the world!