By Shweta Desai
PARIS (AA) – An ongoing debate on the controversial draft of a "separatism" bill has sparked criticism, resulted in a diversion, dividing the house on the question of veil, whether to include amendments to ban veiled students at the university and accompanying parents from displaying any religious symbols at school premises.
Several parliamentarians on Tuesday have deemed the move to be counterproductive.
Sacha Houlie, a member of President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist liberal La Republique En Marche party, warned that prohibiting university students and accompanying parents from public services and school trips, and preventing their participation in cultural and sporting activities would "be totally counterproductive in relation to the very objective of this text which fought against the separatists" and "would refer these people to their identity" so "would favor the community withdrawal."
Boris Vallaud, a member of the Socialist Party also reacted: “Students are users of the public service, this secularism does not apply to them."
“To ban the veil at the university would be to say that all women who wear the veil pose a problem, which would mean we consider that it is Islam which poses a problem," said Pierre Yves Bournazel, an Act Together party member representing Paris.
A 2004 law prohibits the wearing or open display of religious symbols in all French schools, but it does not apply to universities. There is no law banning mothers from wearing the hijab on school trips, but there have been several instances when veiled women were verbally abused or asked to not accompany their wards.
The discussion was ignited by right wing and conservative Republican party member Eric Ciotti’s demand on Tuesday to ban the Islamic veil at the university. “We cannot tolerate that the university, temple of the knowledge of reason and science, can tolerate a garment of enslavement of the woman within it,’’ he told the hearing by the special commission examining the text of the bill “confirming respect for the principles of the Republic” at the National Assembly.
The government says the bill presented to the Council of Ministers on Dec. 9 aims to fight “separatism” and radicalization by a series of provisions such as banning polygamy or forced marriages, virginity certificates, homeschooling, controlling foreign funding, making places of worship more transparent, proscribing political meetings in a religious building, fighting against online hate speech and illegal content, among others.
Around 1,700 amendments were presented for discussion ahead of the examination of the bill which began on Monday, majority of which were labelled as “inadmissible”. This included an amendment by Aurore Berge and Jean-Baptiste Moreau, members of Macron’s party, to ban the wearing of the veil for "little girls" and mothers accompanying school trips, which was eventually rejected.
In a comment to the French daily Le Express, Berge said she stood by her suggestion, adding: “Supporting the improvement of access to abortion and fighting against the veiling of young girls are part of the same fight for the emancipation of women. You cannot be a variable-geometry feminist, or only be one when the battle is on."
Earlier, Macron had warned over such amendments that there was a probable “danger to divert the debate on this question which has no place today” and it had "no relation with the bill”.
“And this can lead to a stigmatization of Muslims, while we have repeatedly said it was not a text against the Muslim religion,” the daily Le Parisien quoted him as saying at a seminar last week.