THE REPERCUSSIONS OF
“L’AFFAIRE DES FOULARDS”
A thesis presentation
In Candidacy for an Honours Degree in
By Dana Mac Sween
“Loi n° 2004-228 du 15 mars 2004 encadrant, en application
du principe de laïcité, le port de signes ou de tenues manifestant
une appartenance religieuse dans les écoles, collèges et lycées
(literally "Law #2004-228 of March 15, 2004
concerning, as an application of the principle of the
separation of church and state, the wearing of symbols
or garb which show religious affiliation in public
primary and secondary schools").
What was the reasoning and response to the
March 2004 Law banning religious symbols in
A qualitative case-study
John Bowen, “Why the French Don’t like headscarves?”
Joan Scott, “The Politics of the Veil”
French Government Documents
Chapter One: History and Make-up of the
Muslim Community in France
Chapter Two: A History of Laïcité .
Chapter Three: Repercussions of The Law
Chapter Four: Conclusion and Analysis
History of Muslim Community in
Around the beginning of the 19th century, worker immigrants from Northern
Africa started arriving in France to work.
Algeria especially provided cheap French labour, they were seen as docile
During WWI, France used many of its colonies to supply the army
80,000 Algerians, 35,000 Moroccans, and 18,000 Tunisians settled in France
during World War I.
After WWII huge economic boom led to more immigrants of North African
In 1970s, France tightened their immigration laws
This also led to more families settling in France, changing the face of the
Muslim community. The younger generation were conscious French citizens
aware of their rights.
1990s more families arrived as result of Yugoslav wars
Mapping out the Muslim
Very hard to find information, because it’s illegal
to ask people their religion in France census
Used Marketing surveys
Around 4 million
The largest group in Europe
1685 mosques and prayer halls, compared to
40,000 Catholic Churches
The Muslim Population
of France by
Country of Origin
Tunisia Sub-Saharan Africa
Middle-East Arabs Middle-East Non Arabs
Converts Harkis and Descendants
The Muslim Community
Given the large diversity in background, ethnicity,
race, country of origins, and interpretations of the
Islamic faith, it is not surprising that the French
Muslim community does not have one unified voice.
Many live in “banlieues” which are poor suburbs
50% of the prison population
Mosques as a political issue?
4 Islamic schools
Many try to paint the Muslim community in France
as filled with extremists, but this is not really the case
Events around the first headscarf
Lots of media attention to issues at the time:
Ayatollah Khomei fatwa against Salman Rushdie
Bicentential of French Revolution
First Palestinian uprising
Creil, a small town near
Previous issues with
In September 1989, 3
girls showed up
“The Current French ambassador to the United
States, Jean-David Levitte, once told me that the
difficulty he had in explaining the new French
law to Americans was that to do he had to retell,
each time, so much of French history”.
-John R. Bowen
The Guizot Law (1833): required teachers to pass a state exam in order to be
certified, and gave the state control of primary schools.
The Falloux Law (1850): required schools to educate both girls and boys
“Peasants into Frenchmen” (1870) Policy: sought to turn French
schoolchildren into citizens uniting them under the banner of France, rather
than of their region of birth. Classrooms assimilate. “united people within
1876 and 1882: several laws continued to secularize the schools. In the
classroom only secular teaching was allowed, Catholic chaplains being banned
1901: Right to form voluntary organizations
1905: Deprived organized religion of religious status, they were allowed to
reform as “private organizations”. This law apparently embodies “Laïcité”.
Lucite: is the institutional dimension of secularization.
Religious Wars between Catholics and Hugenots(Protestants)
The French Revolution: Goddess of Reason
Pull between secularism and control of Catholic church
Loyalty to the Republic
Has to do with Public Space
-Bowen:, Laïcité is a confusing term. “Not only has there never been
agreement on the role religion should play in public life. Some in France hold
Laïcité to guarantee freedom of public religious practice, while others think
that it prevents such practice. There is no historical actor called “Laïcité”:
only a series of debates, laws, and multiple efforts to assert claims over public
Law becomes reality
Ernest Cheniere expelled the girls, warned the national
assembly that Laïcité was being compromised
Intensive Media coverage
Schools wanted a policy
As a result, creation of the Stasti Commision
Political and opinion shift. According to Bowen, most
“Ban the scarves and things will, somehow, get better:
boys will stop harassing girls; “Islamists” will stop
harassing “secular” Muslims, as teachers will get more
Named after the chair, Bernard Statsi.
-Composed of 19 people, intellectuals, administrators
-Only heard from one Muslim and no sociologists who
studied the issue.
Not one girl whom wanted to wear the headscarf was
heard by the committee
-Made 25 recommendations, only banning the scarf was
-Later passed in the French Assembly with little debate.
Results of the Law:
Illegal Dropouts (under 16) 30
Drop-outs (over 16) 100
Studying Abroad 67
Private Schooling 3
Successful Dialogue 533
Online/Distance Education 26
Allowed to wear some form of scarf 12
Total students affected by law 806
Source The headscarf ban in French schools: Truth unveiled, March 15 Freedom Committee, www.15mars.net, Bayane Editions, p. 22.
More Muslims Schools
More funding for mosques
Haute Autorité de Lutte contre les
Discriminations et pour l’Egalité (HALDE)
The Haut conseil à l’intégration (HCI)
Ni Putes, Ni Soumises (Not Whores, nor
Conclusion and Analysis
Reasons for enacting the law (Muslim integration, oppression of
women reaffirmation of Laïcité) weren’t really solved.
Reality: Giving schools a legal basis to expel students.
Political reasons. Le Pen and Sarkozy.
Not vindictive, those on the committee only heard a select few,
and made the recommendations in order to protect woman.
Symbolic law, but sacrifices girl’s education.
Law is here to stay.
To help the situation, perhaps intitiate the Statsi’s other
Interview with a Muslim Student
Ababa: Me, I personally think that this whole debate is
about hiding our problems. There have always been
girls wearing veils in the schools.
Keaton: Which problems?
Habiba: Fundamentalism, exclusion. But this law isn’t
necessary. Even those bandanas that everyone’s
wearing now, I don’t see why that bothers them so
much. They have to be either fashion or cultural, but
not religious. It’s crazy! They’re not criminals; they’re
just trying to go to school!
Source: Keaton, Trica. 2005. “Arrogant Assimilationism: National Identity Politics and African-Origin Muslim
Girls in the Other France” Anthropology & Education Quarterly. 36(4):405-423
Quote from French citizen, Antoine de Saint-
Exupéry, whom said “Your difference, my
brother, far from scaring me, enriches me”.
A huge Thank you to Dr. Lavina Stan for all
her help with this project.