15 décembre 2013

Paris forum against Islamophobia a success

Lire le compte-rendu en français par John Mullen

Over 250 people, including many young Muslims, attended an international forum against Islamophobia last Saturday in Paris. Speakers included academics and activists from France, Switzerland, Belgium, the UK and the USA. It was the the most successful and representative gathering of its kind in many years - yet the organised left, with the exception of a few individuals, was conspicuously absent.

The meeting was timely. A few days earlier, the publication of a report commissioned by Socialist prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault had provoked a storm of protest from right-wing politicians, including Tory leader Jean-François Copé who accused the government of wanting to "deconstruct the Republic".

Yet the report's authors had done little more than recognise France's multicultural reality, recommending the teaching of Arabic and other minority languages in schools, revising the curriculum to highlight the history of slavery, colonisation and economic migration, lifting the ban on non-nationals in certain types of employment, creating an offence of "racial harrassment" and so on.

Crucially, the report mentioned the possibility of revoking the hijab ban in schools and the government circular banning mothers who wear the headscarf from taking part in school trips.

The government's reaction to the controversy was predictable. It was "obvious", said Ayrault, that the government had no intention of lifting the hijab ban, while president Hollande rushed to confirm that the recommendations did not represent government policy.

Ten years after the law banning the hijab in schools, few, even on the far left, are seriously committed to its repeal - indeed, many consider that it should be defended. Yet activists now have an opportunity to raise the question in their organisations and in the wider community. At the end of Saturday's conference, a demonstration was announced for the anniversary of its passing, on March 15 next year.

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