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Dossier

2004-06-19

PROBLEMS AND TENSIONS


 The Veil

Among the problems faced by Muslim integration in France, the most recent is the dispute over the veil that practising Muslim girls wish to wear in class. This dispute on the use of the Islamic veil in primary and secondary schools in France had developments also in the Arab Islamic world. There were many demonstrations of protest on the streets of Beirut, Amman, Damascus and other cities of Middle East. Dense lines of people paraded against the law forbidding the use of the veil in the European Country. However, does this law contribute to the integration of Arab-Muslim immigrants within French society? Among European countries, France, and somehow Belgium and Great Britain, was the first to face the presence of large numbers of immigrant people, especially from North Africa: Algerians, Tunisians, Moroccans, all sharing a common Islamic faith. Moreover, the issue of the veil that has now affected the Republique will become the topical issue in the whole western world in the next few decades because of the constant arrival and/or demographic increase of Muslim population. Furthermore, this law tried to regulate a nearly marginal problem, leaving open many other issues with regard to integration. Will the law approved on the veil pass the European Justice Committee? There is a precedent. In secular Turkey, where chadors are forbidden, a university student, Leila Sahim, who wanted to wear the veil, won her case at the European Court in 1998, and Ankara was accused of attacking personal freedom.

 School Education

The problem of education is made up of two fundamental aspects: school programs and community belonging. The foundational personage of France is Charles Martel, whose victory at Poitiers prevented the expansion of the Muslim Empire. Another foundational personage is Joan of Arc. Can the son or the daughter of an immigrant, who hears about Islam and Islamic conquests at home, accept that the foundational history of the Country where he or she lives is an enemy of his or her Country of origin? At an educational level, the problem becomes schizophrenic: on one side the person must absorb the foundational history of the country where he or she was born and lives, and on the other side it is in contradiction with the traditions and family history he or she comes from. How do the young French high school students coming from Maghreb feel when at school they have to listen to the history of colonialism in North Africa or about Napoleon Bonaparte who invaded Egypt? Many examples from the news in French high schools bear witness to the fact that the students question and reject the school programs. The same happens when teachers speak about the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Jewish issue. How can the problem be solved? With school regulations or orders, or is there another way? Again, many young people from Maghreb reject the authority of women teachers. More, when a young girl practising sports at school refuses to wear shorts or uncover her arms to play volleyball, or her parents forbid her from going on a school trip because of fear of her mingling too much with boys, how should teachers treat the matter? Should they let it pass, letting her marginalisation increase at school? Is it possible to intervene? Without making it a crusade, it is worthwhile to work to facilitate integration. And there is another problem: sexual education.

 Food

It seems a relatively simple problem, easy to solve. In the school canteen, whoever does not want to eat pork or sausages does not. It is a compromise. However, if the State is secular why should it respect religious sensitivity? Muslims need their meat to be butchered in a special way, called halal, the animal should be killed and bled. For this reason, the State has drawn agreements with the city slaughterhouses, approved by the League for the Protection of Animals. It is a cultural gap to bridge and mediate between people struggling to prevent drug testing on animals and people eating only halal meat. In addition, at the Pyramides, a Paris shopping mall, two Muslim immigrants recently bought a large supermarket in franchising. Now they no longer sell pork or alcoholic drinks. How should the problem be solved? Should the State intervene or should the clients of the supermarket get used to it?

 Polygamy

The secular law of the Republic does not admit polygamy. However, if an immigrant working in France with his family gets married a second time in his own Country, according to the law of family union he is allowed to bring also his second family. The citizens of the Republic do not have such a right. Therefore, with the acceptance of polygamy, there are de facto religious distinctions.

 Cemeteries and Worship of the Dead

According to Islamic tradition, a dead person should be buried the same day he or she died, before sunset. Instead, according to European laws it is necessary to wait at least 24 hours before burial. How are these conceptions reconcilable?

 Woman’s condition

In the West, law forbids excision. Even more, it is a crime breaching the penal code. If a family from Maghreb takes their daughter to one of their Countries of origin and there infibulation is performed on her, can the law prosecute her parents once they are back in France? Another problem, if a woman is bleeding and a male gynaecologist arrives and following the rules of the Koran she does not let him approach her, what should be done? Let her die to proclaim the secularity of the State?

 Working days, holidays

If a large factory employs more immigrant workers than French ones, since the French no longer want to work there, and the immigrants ask for a working hours timetable giving them time for prayer and places of worship, or if they ask to work on Sundays and rest on Fridays, should their requests be accepted, or the principle says no? Again, if a factory in economic trouble is forced to make an industrial conversion to an activity contrary to the principles of Islam (for instance from canning tomatoes to selling liquors, or from selling beef to pork) what happens? An endless clash because the Muslim immigrant workers do not want to touch pork meat? If they ask for a month of leave during Ramadan, which may fall any moment of the year, what happens to factory?

 Changes in the city landscape

This is one of the less known and less considered aspects. Very few specialists in city planning study it, but it will create many problems unleashing ghosts of the past in the fantasies of many people (battle of Lepanto, the plunder of Rome). It is quite certain that the Muslims will want to have more and more mosques for their worship. The architecture of a mosque has precise characteristics, like tall minarets. Mosques close to churches and cathedrals? How will the French react to minarets taller than historical cathedrals? Will they be ready to welcome these changes or will the immigrant people have to be content with peripheral areas, like now, so that the historical city landscape may not change?

 Worshipping rules

With the Constitution of the French Council of Muslim Faith (CFCM), for the first time the Republic has an official interlocutor regulating worship. Italy’s minister Pisanu is trying to create a similar organism in his country.

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