France courting trouble with ban on Abaya in school

France’s school ban on the all-covering Muslim robe called “Abaya” has unleashed a heated public debate about the nation’s prized secular values and the extent to which they can encroach on civil liberties.

Education Minister, Gabriel Attal said on Sunday that the government would move ahead with the ban this week, in time for the start of the school year on Sept. 4.

Attal argued that restrictions on the wearing of this Muslim garment would uphold the right of students to emancipate themselves through school.

The Government spokesman, Olivier Veran however defended the new guidelines on RMC radio on Monday, arguing that French schools were “a temple of secularism” where students were supposed to learn and not try to convert others to their faith.

Finance Minister, Bruno Le Maire chimed in saying the ban was an “emergency” response to the rise of political Islam in France.

Credible News reports that the French Government already banned all signs of religious affiliation from schools in 2004 but the “abaya” dress has occupied a gray area, with some arguing that it is a fashion statement and not necessarily religious in nature.

“Yes, it is an emergency. I welcome the decision made by Gabriel Attal. I welcome the clarity of his decision.

“‘No’ to the abaya, ‘no’ to all ostensible religious symbols, and ‘no’ to political Islam in our country,” Le Maire told France Inter radio.

Conservative leader Eric Ciotti said on social media that the Republicans welcomed the decision which he said “proves us right”.

Attal was also applauded by the main Head Teachers’ union, SNPDEN-UNSA, for bringing clarity to the issue.

However, politicians to the left of the political spectrum and faith leaders criticised the move for polarising French society.

However, the left-wing leader, Jean-Luc Melenchon, of La France Insoumise Party, called the ban absurd and out of touch with what he described as true secularism.

“It is saddening to see the return to school being polarised politically by a new, absurd, and utterly artificial religious war around a woman’s dress.

“When will there be civil peace and true secularism that unites instead of exasperating?” he asked.

The Vice-President of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, Abdallah Zekri argued in an interview with BFMTV television channel that the abaya “has never been a religious symbol”.

“If you go to a store, you will find abayas. It is a long, loose dress. It has nothing to do with religion”, he stated.

The Secretary-General of France’s biggest secondary teachers’ union, SNES-FSU, Sophie Venetitay insisted that abaya disputes could be settled through dialogue in 95 percent of cases.

She warned in a comment to France Inter that the ban risked alienating Muslim students, pushing them out of secular schools and into religious institutions.

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