In October, French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte participated in the Elliott School Ambassador’s Forum with a lecture on French-American relations. In an excellent speech, the ambassador reminded the audience of France and America’s history of standing together in conflicts ranging from our respective revolutions to world wars. The ambassador explained how this special relationship ensures that our nations will always remain friends, but that true friends speak up when they disagree with one another’s actions. Ambassador Levitte made it hard to hate the French for their disapproval of American actions in Afghanistan or Iraq. One should take his message to heart – when friends see something wrong with one another’s actions, they are obligated to say so.
The French government is now in the process of planning a revocation of religious freedoms. President Jacques Chirac recently stated that it “should not be accepted” when people wear religious symbols that allow people to “immediately see what religious faith they belong to.” This course of action should appall any American who supports the long-held American ideal of freedom of religion. Upcoming French legislation to ban religious symbols in schools should be met with international criticism. It’s sad; right as the French were finally getting back on our good side by planning to drop part of Iraq’s debt, Jacques Chirac and friends just had to go and embarrass themselves.
The issue revolves around what appears to be religious persecution against Muslims in France. The recent government report on church-state relations basically states that a ban on the wearing of Islamic veils would be a firm stance against “militant Islamists trying to undermine official secularism.” The report goes on to state, “No group, no community should be allowed to impose its confessional identity on anyone else,” and that in France there were “extremist groups at work … trying to test the resistance of the Republic and push some young people into rejecting France and its values.”
The French government somehow plans on defending religious freedom by not allowing people to wear symbols of their religion in public, whether it is an Islamic veil, a Jewish “skullcap” or a large Christian cross. The government report supported the banning of all these in public schools. Notably, only minorities would be seriously affected by this course of action; strict Christians are not required by religious law to wear obvious symbols as Muslims and Jews often are.
Al-Ahram, a weekly Egyptian paper, recently explained part of the issue’s history. In 1989, the Conseil d’Etat, France’s highest authority on the constitution, ruled that “students should be allowed to express their religious beliefs in educational establishments, as long as this respects the principle of pluralism and the liberty of others.” The article explained that after a few recent incidents when veil-wearing Muslim women were kicked out of public schools, the Commission on the Application of the Principle of Secularism decided that obvious religious symbols should be banned.
A few localized incidents are causing broad-sweeping changes across an entire nation; this is known as reverse logic. It would make much more sense to deal with localized events on an individual basis and force schools to obey the longstanding 1989 ruling by the Conseil d’Etat. The fact that the logical solution was avoided suggests ulterior motives. This course of action also seems to tell the French public that the persecution of veil-wearing Muslim women was correct and that the government endorses the segregation certain public schools created.
A few years ago anti-French jokes went from being just plain tasteless to being tastelessly patriotic; the change was the result of misplaced anger in defense of America’s national ego. Now, France-haters who choose to call their deep-fried potato sticks “freedom fries” may find themselves on the forefront of an anti-French protest that actually has merit. It’s sophomoric to hate the French solely because they didn’t agree with American actions. But a government-sponsored move against the closely held American belief that all people should be given the right to openly practice their own religion is justifiable reason for Americans to stand together against the French government.
-The writer, a freshman majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.