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AFP
October 17, 2019

School trip hijab clash sparks row in France

World

AFP
October 17, 2019

PARIS: A new row over secularism and the wearing of the Islamic Hijab in public buildings has erupted in France after a far-right politician asked a woman accompanying her son and other children on a school trip to remove her headscarf.

The issue has divided politicians and citizens in a country that often struggles with finding a balance between individual religious freedom and constitutionally-guaranteed secularism in the public sector, including schools.

Julien Odoul, a member of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) party, caused widespread outrage when he posted a video on Twitter of him confronting a woman who accompanied pupils last Friday to the regional parliament in Bourgogne-Franche-Comte in eastern France.

Citing "secular principles" in the wake of the killings in Paris this month of four police staff by a radicalised convert to Islam, he insisted the woman, whose son was among the group, remove her headscarf.

Members of the RN then walked out of the chamber before issuing a press statement denouncing "an Islamist provocation". But many, including regional parliament speaker Marie-Guite Dufay, criticised Odoul’s actions, saying neither the law of the country nor the rules of the chamber prohibited a member of the public wearing a headscarf.

Dufay denounced a "surge of hatred" and what she described as "undignified behaviour" on the part of a lawmaker. With the RN playing up the issue, the controversy has exposed divisions within the centrist ruling party of President Emmanuel Macron which is keenly aware Marine Le Pen’s faction is its chief political foe.

Even the country’s Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer seemed unable to pick a side, stressing on Sunday that "the law does not prohibit women wearing headscarves to accompany children", while saying "the headscarf itself is not desirable in our society" because of "what it says about the status of women, what it says about our values."

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