France Insider/Paul Ben-Itzak

December 8, 2008

Unveiled: The Rights of Men, except for Muslim girls

Like the U.S. media, the French counterpart has the tendency to overdo it on anniversaries, applying blanket coverage that often has the reverse of the desired effect by actually numbing us to the importance of the organism being feted. This month it’s been the 60th of the convention of the universal rights of men. Presumably this applies to women too, but not, apparently, to the two women who brought suit in the European Court of the Rights of Men in 1999 when, still teenagers of 13 and 14, respectively, they were expelled from their middle school in Flers, in the Orne department, for refusing to take off their head scarves as required by a new French law ostensively prohibiting sporting ‘ostentatious’ symbols of religion but which in fact was seen by many as targeting ostentatious symbols of Islamism (not to be confused with ‘Islam’).  The young women seemed to think that Article 9 of the aforementioned convention, which defends the liberty of thought, conscience, and religion, might apply to their case. (Hey, just had a thought: If the young ladies sought recourse to such an august European institution, do they still count as communitarianists — i.e. segregationists? Just wondering.) Well, surprise surprise, the Strasbourg-based court told them last week that they had no case. The story was buried in the media — my local paper Sud-Ouest ran two paragraphs in Friday’s editions — as were the young ladies’ rights. Because here’s the deal: Acknowledging that, if I recall correctly the debate at the time the law was passed, even French Muslim authorities are not unanimous on whether the wearing of the head scarf is a dictate of the religion or a choice, the fact is that for these young women, and countless others, covering their heads constitutes part of how they practice their religion. (Is it imposed by men in their circles? It seems there should be other ways to handle that scenario.) So as long as they don’t proselytize in school, who is the State to proscribe how they practice their faith?


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