The bill on secularism in France
Visit to the Gulf United Arab Emirates- Press briefing given by H.E. Mr. Dominique de Villepin, French Minister of Foreign Affairs- excerpts-
(Abu Dhabi, January 12, 2004)
Question: “Problems have recently emerged with the Muslim countries because of the legislation France is going to adopt on banning the Muslim headscarf. Will this have repercussions on France’s relations with the Arab and Muslim countries and particularly with
the countries of origin of the French Muslims?
Reply by the Minister: (...) I think I can say that France’s position is, on the whole, well understood, but we want, of course, to avoid any misunderstanding. This is why I am
happy that you have given me the opportunity to explain France’s position.
As you know, France is the country of democracy, of human rights. For several months now, we have been engaged in a very far-reaching, very detailed dialogue with the Muslim community and have created in our country the Conseil français du Culte musulman, allowing
the Islam of France to organize its relations with the State.
Islam has, of course, its full place in France and is respected there, and indeed it’s to ensure respect for religions and beliefs that the State has to be neutral. This is the French tradition, a tradition of secularism [laïcité], designed to promote integration and equality of
opportunity, which in France requires neutrality in public affairs.
The legislation we are preparing in France is thus consistent with a very long-standing historical tradition. It is false to say that it targets Islam and in particular the wearing of the headscarf. I want to put particular emphasis on the fact that there won’t be a total ban on wearing the headscarf. The ban will be confined to State schools and civil servants when carrying out their duties. Private, faith schools will not be covered by the legislation, nor will universities, public buildings and areas, and, a fortiori, private ones. So you can see that the aim is indeed to ensure that the secular principle is applied in our State schools, it’s a French tradition and we are anxious to ensure that that this principle of secularism, of neutrality can
be respected. (...).”