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France berated for ‘religious’ skirt ban on Muslim girl

'This is a mass hysteria against Muslims and Islam in France... this needs to stop immediately,' National Observatory against Islamophobia says.

30.04.2015
France berated for ‘religious’ skirt ban on Muslim girl

By Hajer M'tiri & Ilgin Karlidag

PARIS

French anti-Islamophobia groups have strongly condemned the recent school suspension of a Muslim girl for wearing a long black skirt to class.

Abdallah Zekri, president of the National Observatory against Islamophobia, told the Anadolu Agency Wednesday that it was “outrageous and unacceptable" that a girl was suspended on the pretext of breaching principles of secularism.

Earlier this month, Sarah, a 15-year-old Muslim girl, was banned from class twice by her school head teacher for wearing a long black skirt, which was seen as a concerted "provocation" by the regional education office in northern France’s Charleville-Mezieres town.

"When it comes to concerted protest actions by students, which follow other more visible incidents linked for instance to wearing the veil, the secular framework for education must be firmly reminded and guaranteed," the regional education office said in a statement Tuesday.

Under France’s strict secular laws, students are banned from wearing any “conspicuous signs” of religion such as headscarves, skullcaps or crucifixes at school.

Sarah, who started wearing the headscarf only last year, told the French media Tuesday that she took it off "every morning before going inside the school, knowing that she has no such right once inside."

As for her skirt, she told L'Ardennais newspaper: "This skirt really has nothing special, it is simple, it has nothing ostentatious. There are no religious symbols at all."

"Wearing a long skirt is nothing ostentatious. The girl has respected the law by not wearing her headscarf inside the school, so I can't see which secularism they are speaking about," Zekri said.

He added that French authorities should stop the "exclusion" of Muslim girls and warned that young girls, who ended up feeling oppressed in France, later then go and travel to Syria in search of their religious freedom.

"There is a mass hysteria against Muslims and Islam in France... this needs to stop immediately," he said.

Elsa Ray, spokeswoman of the Collective Against Islamophobia watchdog, agreed and revealed that Sarah's case was not an isolated incident.

"For the last two years, we dealt with hundreds of similar cases. In the last few months, several girls were excluded from classes for wearing skirts seen as too long in the southern city of Montpellier," Ray told AA Wednesday.

According to the spokesperson, some 130 students were rejected from their classes last year for outfits that were deemed too religious.

"Suspension from school for such a reason is against the law, it is an attack on the freedom of these girls, who have the right, as others, to dress the way they want," she said.

She called on the Minister of Education, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, to intervene as soon as possible to stop this “madness."

"It is discriminatory, unjust and very violent for these girls to live in exclusion," she added.

Some people also condemned the move online and expressed their support for Sarah and other Muslim girls like her on social media.

The hashtag #JePorteMaJupeCommeJeVeux, translated into English as "I wear my skirt as I please," began trending Wednesday on Twitter.

"If it’s worn by a ‘white’ person, it’s hippy chic, if it’s a Muslim, it becomes conspicuous," several users tweeted, sharing photos of French female politicians and celebrities walking the red carpet with long dresses.

Others shared photos of Hollywood stars on the red carpet, such as Angelina Jolie and Emma Watson, and even the U.S. First lady Michelle Obama, with the remark: "Sorry, you can't go to school in ‪France. Your dresses are too long."

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