The issue of whether to let women wear scarves at university came into the spotlight earlier this month when a professor at the Paris XIII university said that he did not support “religious symbols in public places”, referring to a young woman wearing a hijab in his class. The professor was demoted for his comments.
In September, a professor at the Sorbonne asked a student if she would continue wearing “that thing” in class, indicating the young woman’s headscarf. The president of the Sorbonne later apologised for the professor’s comments.
The issues of religion and immigration has become even more pertinent in France after a series of attacks last month carried out by Muslim immigrants to France. In the aftermath of the attacks, which left 20 dead including the attackers, the question of what it means to be a French Muslim or both French and Jewish is on many people’s minds. In a recent speech at the Sorbonne, French President François Hollande called for a “secular teaching of religion” and said that France’s official secularism – or laïcité – “does not mean forgetting religion, or indeed being in conflict with religion”.
Last week, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s political party, the UMP (Union for a Popular Movement), came out in support of even more restrictive measures on religious symbols in French public spaces, including an outright ban on veils in universities. This would be in addition to the ban already in place at public primary and secondary schools.
Some experts say that this is just a way for Sarkozy to appear more appealing to an electorate that may be increasingly wary of minority communities.
“This is political pandering to the electorate that might vote for the (far-right) National Front,” said John Bowen, a professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, who specializes in the study of Islam…. see more