[Allan Topol / AllanTopol.Com]
Lightning paced thriller writer
of International Intrigue
National Bestselling Author

Crusaders In The Classroom
by Allan Topol, [IMAGE]2004


Photo Courtesy: Julie Zitin
[Allan Topol / AllanTopol.Com] French President Jacques Chirac’s proposal to ban the Muslim headscarf worn by some Muslim women in French schools and public offices has set off a firestorm throughout the Muslim world. Chirac and the other French proponents of the ban have articulated its supposed rationale: to preserve the secularism of the French state; and keep religion in places of worship.

Chirac is pressing ahead to present the proposal to France’s national legislature. The ban would cover other religious symbols as well, including Catholic crosses and kippot worn on the heads by some orthodox Jews. However, everyone understands that these are window dressing meant to avoid the charge that Muslims have been singled out for discrimination, when in fact Muslim headscarves are the focal point of the ban.

Implementation is planned for next September with many Muslims claiming they will take their daughters out of the French public schools. One trouble with that is private education is expensive and there is only one Muslim school in the country. Would they try to send their daughters to Catholic schools? That would be the height of irony.

Preserving secularism is only part of the driving force. Lurking in the background is a desire to preserve the white homogeneity of French society from a surging Muslim onslaught.

Chirac had to know how volatile the issue would be when he proposed the ban. If he had any doubts, they were eradiated on January 17 when tens of thousands of Muslims marched in protest in Paris, Baghdad, Beirut, London and Stockholm.

Suddenly, Chirac, who tried to present himself as “the good guy” to the Arab world in contrast to “cowboy Bush,” is now presented as perhaps an even bigger villain. The American government doesn’t ban the headscarf in public schools.

The motives on both sides are mixed. Some supporters of the ban see the headscarf as a symbol of male dominance over Muslim women. Allowing the headscarf, the argument goes, is a step toward Muslim militant demands that women be stripped of their rights. The advocates of women’s rights generally are prepared to join the fray.

In opposition, joining with militant Islamists are the young who would resist any ban on clothes of any type, whether it be short skirts or bare midriffs. Some attention seeking couture designers featured runway models with headscarves in recent shows which prompted boos from some in the crowd.

President Chirac, though, has been consistent in articulating his rationale. Revolutionary ideas and anti Catholicism of the nineteenth century created a France in which religion was to be confined to the interior of the church. The French revolutionary leaders of the time had enough of the church mixing into politics. Determined to cut back on the role of the church in daily lives, they passed laws keeping religion out of the public schools. Secularism was the hallmark of the new modern day France.

But that was a different France. Almost entirely homogenous. White and Christian.

Those days are now gone. As a result of immigration from the former colonies in North Africa and higher birth rates, there are now approximately five million Muslims in France, many of whom were born in that country from North African parents. This means they are currently 8.5 percent of the population, but increasing rapidly.

Among the entire Muslim population, and particularly the young, unemployment is high and crime is rampant. This situation is particularly true in Paris and in the south of France around Marseille where there are large Muslim concentrations.

At the same time, other waves of immigrants are migrating east to France from the former Soviet bloc in search of jobs. Turkey is clamoring for EU membership, which, if granted, would mean even more Muslims in France and Germany. As a result, those countries, alarmed suddenly to realize that fifteen to twenty million Muslims are now living in Europe, are standing firm against Muslim Turkey’s admission. Meantime, the Germans are trying to have it both ways. Enjoy the benefits of cheap immigrant labor, but keep “those people in their place,” as one right wing German politician expressed it.

Having woken up to the fact hat France is rapidly becoming something other then French, Chirac has in essence organized his band of supporters in a crusade to take back the land from the Muslims. Unlike eight hundred years ago, the crusaders aren’t yet marching with sword and spear. They’re passing laws to ban the headscarf.

But wait, this is just an opening salvo. The French right is likely to exploit the Muslim ascendancy for its own electoral gains. Eight hundred years ago, successive crusades turned more violent. They will once again.