Friday, October 22, 2004

Waiting for the Storm

Yesterday the weather report told us to expect high winds over most of France. Today the air is heavy with expectation and very warm. The children play about in an excited manner and the barometer in the hall reads tempête.

The news last night carried a report about the first Muslim schoolgirls sent home because they refused to remove their veils before entering the school so as to comply with the French law that came into effect at the beginning of this school year.

The Regulations require that the school officials first try and talk with the students and their families - - explaining the need for “neutrality” (as the French see it) and then, if the students and their families still refuse to get rid of their ostensible religious symbols, the students are excluded from school until they comply. It seems so simple: too simple.

The scene outside the school showed the two girls, one appeared to be in tears, accompanied by clearly angry relatives being sent away from the school. There were angry people making statements for the cameras- - one, a man (her father?) brandished one of the girls report cards and yelled that the student had a moyen of 17.5 (out of 20) which, is a very high academic average in France. He seemed to think, somehow, that her scholastic ability could compensate for her desire to manifest her religious beliefs.

Unrest has begun. Like the storm we are expecting later today, things still seem quiet. Serious storms, however, can begin with small beginnings and the unrest over “the veil” and the French claim that stripping all religious symbolism from schools is neutral might ignite what ends up being a veritable firestorm.

It is still a little early to tell how big will be the blow but here, and in French schools, the winds have started.

Iain T. Benson ©