The current ban on abayas brings us back to the context of the development of the 2004 law, and to the question of its merits. Because the argument consisting in saying that it is not possible to ban abayas in the name of the 2004 law, since they are cultural and not religious clothing, as declared Abdallah Zekri, vice-president president of the French Council of Muslim Worship, is insufficient.
The 2004 law, as it is drawn up, already opens this drift, making it possible to infinitely extend the field of repressed clothing, according to criteria relating to racial and sexist discrimination. It is the expression “religious sign by destination” which allows this, either by authorizing the State to judge what falls into this category, or by asking the teachers themselves to do so. Thus the State gives itself the power to fix the meaning of the wearing of clothing or signs – the wearers of which make polysemic use – in the service of a combative secularism, which does not pursue the cohabitation of different beliefs.
Simply a fashion
Wearing an abaya, for a teenager, can have many meanings. For some young women, it is a need to recognize themselves, with other young girls, in a community of believers. For others, it’s simply a trend. For others, it also allows them to be more comfortable with bulky shapes during adolescence, without being looked at by men.
For still others, it is a provocation, against the family or the school. An abaya is also a practical outfit for a teenager: comfortable like a dressing gown while being classier, in discreet colors, a sort of uniform quite consistent with the majority of my high school students: the jogging suit with white sneakers.
An identity and protest object
Wearing an abaya to school constitutes, among other motivations, a way of resisting the injunction given to them to reveal themselves at the entrance. In this, they decide to make it an object of identity and protest (clothing is often the political weapon of the weak, like the jeans worn by women in the 20th century, or the keffiyeh by the Palestinians). It is school, and the ban placed on them from wearing religious symbols, which reinforces their need for identity, because they do not understand what emancipation there could be in a power which asks them to reveal themselves. The continuation of a colonizing relationship with the bodies of young Muslim women is separatist.
In a sense, it is the 2004 law that produces the abaya. She is the one who makes it a subject, when we might not pay as much attention to it. It leads to fixing a uniform meaning to objects and clothing whose symbols attached to them vary, depending on the intention of those who wear them. The 2004 law creates a climate of suspicion towards religious adolescents in our country, and more specifically towards Muslim women, who are the subject of a witch hunt in certain establishments.
Track religious signs
In a colleague’s high school, emails are exchanged between teachers to track down the slightest sign of the 2004 law: bandana, hair band that is too black or too covering, dress that is too long or too loose… A teacher friend is pointed out in the teachers’ room: she was wearing a mid-length dress with short sleeves, she was asked why she was wearing a religious dress.
This suspicion with regard to clothing can also translate into suspicion with regard to the religious beliefs of students: I have several times witnessed, in the teachers’ room, mockery of students’ faith. . And my students are always surprised to be able to discuss faith and beliefs in philosophy class, as they are used to believing them to be taboo or even reprehensible at school. The 2004 law creates among young Muslim women a legitimate mistrust vis-à-vis national education and secularism, a mistrust which will find infinite expression (any item of clothing or sign that can be transformed into a symbol ).
An exceptional law
Before the 2004 law, secularism was understood as the neutrality of the teaching staff, who do not have to impose their religious beliefs on their students, and as the free expression of their beliefs by students. The 2004 law, prohibiting ostentatious or “by destination” religious signs, was drawn up in a context of controversy surrounding the Islamic veil.
It breaks with the free expression of students’ religious beliefs, but also with the principle of equality before the law since the appreciation of a religious sign “by destination” implies discrimination based on the facies or ethnic origin of the person. ‘pupil. In 2004, the CECF (Council of Christian Churches of France) spoke out against the law on religious symbols in schools, suspecting that it was an exceptional law derogating from the principle of equality and freedom of expression of the students.
A misguided secularism
Secularism is precious; it makes it possible to guarantee religious freedom and that of worship, and to separate state powers from religious powers. But secularism is misguided when it seeks to annihilate religious expression, or when it is used to pursue the chimera of a culturally homogeneous nation. The 2004 law, which is discriminatory and contrary to secularism, should be abolished.
Although the current ban covers abayas and qamis, it is impossible not to note the long list of clothing prohibited for young women in schools. The control of women’s bodies at school appears to be an extension of the sexist discrimination they experience outside of it – sexist insults or sexual assaults that take advantage of women’s clothing, attacks against veiled women in public spaces. The state should not dictate the length of women’s skirts.
Respect the conscience of students
As a teacher, our mission is to respect the conscience of students and to support them on their path to emancipation, by teaching them to think sometimes against themselves and against all the prejudices that have been transmitted to them. School cannot be the place for the institution of racist prejudices.
Our mission is also to ensure that each student can develop their abilities to the best of their ability. There is something indecent in banning abayas, when we know that this measure mainly affects high schools in the most disadvantaged areas, the high schools in which there is the greatest shortage of teachers in the classes, those in which school life is difficult. He does not have the means to carry out real educational work but is often forced to deal with disciplinary issues.
Realizing that we can only help students who have the social resources to succeed is heartbreaking. Adding yet another police mission to our work is unacceptable. As a national education official, I did not sign up to be the agent of a policy that perpetuates social inequalities and discriminates against students.