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Last Updated: Saturday, 13 December, 2003, 18:51 GMT
Bad press for headscarf ban
Two Paris sisters
Two sisters have been among the high profile expulsion cases

A proposed ban on conspicuous religious symbols such as headscarves or crucifixes in French schools is roundly rejected in the press.

Both in France itself, and in the countries where most of France's Islamic population comes from, papers doubt whether the measure can help reduce social tension.

"Where does tolerance end? Where does prohibition begin?" asks France's Le Monde.

The Stasi report, which recommended the ban, is "clear and precise on religious symbols", the paper says.

"But it lacks such clarity when it recommends a ban on clothing and symbols showing a political affiliation."

To reinforce the point, the paper has a cartoon showing the Polish and Spanish delegates - in headscarves - arriving at the EU summit.
France remains divided over the Islamic scarf, and more generally over the place of Islam in society
The caption emanating from the summit reads: "Watch out, there are fundamentalists about."

An editorial in another French daily, Liberation, also worries about "putting religious and political symbols on the same level".

"Unless, that is, one wants to engage in the widescale policing of opinions," the paper adds.

The same paper accepts that Muslim fundamentalism has managed "in just a few years" to challenge the balance between the religious and secular spheres.

"Yet the fact that current difficulties are caused less by fundamentalists than a crisis of integration is equally undeniable," it notes.

France divided

Algeria's Liberte is likewise unimpressed, saying the Stasi report has changed nothing.

"France remains divided over the issue of the Islamic scarf, and more generally over the place of Islam in French society," the paper says.

While in Morocco, Le Matin points to the contrast between the proposal for a law on secularism in France, and the Pope's insistence on proclaiming Christianity in the new European constitution.
Covering one's head is illegal, but showing breasts, bottoms and legs, that is legal
Al-Quds Al-Arabi
"Secularism remains an issue that has to be tackled with caution, in order to put in place a policy of non-discrimination, which would promote national cohesion without strengthening sectarianism," Le Matin warns.

In Tunisia, La Presse prefers to reserve judgement.

"Jacques Chirac has taken note and will make his decision known later as to possible legislation on religious and political symbols in schools," it says.

Other Arabic-language papers also cover the controversy.

The Qatari daily Al-Watan says it is confident such a leader as President Jacques Chirac has the wisdom to reverse a plan, which will "not only affect the unity of French society but may also provoke and disturb the feelings of Muslim nations".

The London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi daily in turn mocks the proposal as irrational.

"It is illogical that French laws allow girls to wear short tight skirts, show their breasts, plunge into vice, and then prevent them from covering their heads," the paper says.

"Covering one's head is illegal, but showing breasts, bottoms and legs, that is legal."

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


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