French Muslims obey headscarf ban

Sept. 3, 2004 at 8:17 AM

PARIS, Sept. 3 (UPI) -- A widely denounced French law banning school children from wearing ostentatious religious symbols is being obeyed -- even by Muslim opponents.

France's 70,000 schools opened Thursday in a test of the nation's new secularist ban on religious clothing like Jewish skullcaps, oversize Christian crosses and Muslim head scarves, the New York Times reported Friday.

But the abduction by Muslims in Iraq of two French reporters and subsequent demand to rescind the law has united France and produced an unexpectedly calm start to the academic term.

"Today we have to worry about the fate of the two hostages," said Muhammad Bechari, vice president of the French Council for the Muslim Religion, before heading to Baghdad as part of a delegation to win the two men's release.

Commentators hailed the decision of French Muslims to obey the headscarf ban as unprecedented.

"We have seen an extraordinary display of national unity by the Muslim community here saying, 'First, we are French,'" said Olivier Roy, a leading French scholar of Islam. "They may disagree on the law of the veil but they are saying, 'This is our fight and don't interfere.' This is a pivotal moment."

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