Archbishop Jean Pierre Ricard

By Hadi Yahmid, IOL Correspondent

PARIS, December 9 (IslamOnline.net) – Archbishops of France’s Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Churches urged Monday, December 8, French President Jacques Chirac not to enact a law banning hijab in public institutions.

The appeal came after Chirac had joined the anti-hijab camp in France by describing hijab as “a sort of aggression” during a meeting with students at the Pierre Mendes-France School in the Tunisian capital Saturday, December 6.

The archbishops voiced concern over the controversy of wearing religious signs in schools in a petition sent to the Elysee Palace.

The message, a copy of which was obtained by IslamOnline.net, underlined the opposition of France’s Council of Churches to the planned discriminatory law.

They cited the freedom of religion law of 1995 and the state’s neutral position on religion, arguing that secularism ensured the right to free speech and guaranteed tolerance.

Among the leading archbishops were Jean-Arnold de Clermont; the president of the Federation of Protestants, Reverend Emmanuel; the archbishop of Catholic priests and Jean Pierre Ricard; the president of the Orthodox Association.

France’s Catholic Church had previously stated its opposition to the draft law, asserting that it would restrict freedom of religion.

Catholic archbishops, who huddled together in the southwestern French city of Lourdes last month to tackle the Church’s relations with the state and society, went for opening a dialogue on all pending issues, such as hijab instead of enacting a new law.

They agreed that Islam should not be used as a pretext to pass such a law despite the fact that Islam is the center of attention nowadays in France when it comes to secularism.

Furthermore, a hundred French secular personalities had issued a similar petition last May to assure the right of Muslim women and girls to wear hijab, standing on the fact that secularism opposes segregation.

Media Influence

Meanwhile, a prominent Muslim activist attributed a recent anti-hijab poll to an extensive media campaign and the policies adopted by the French ruling party, Union Pour un Movement Populaire (UMP), led by Prime Minister Jean Pierre Raffarin.

The survey, which was conducted by a French research center,  showed that 57 percent of the French people are in favor of passing the law, 41 per cent against, while only two per cent abstained.

The poll was conducted among 1,000 from different cross-sections of society.

Mohammad al-Mastiri, the director of the U.S.-based International Institute of Islamic Thought, said the poll did not eventually take the pulse of the street on such a controversial and complicated issue.

He said that the poll was highly influenced by a media campaign that stereotyped hijab and politics, after Premier Jean-Pierre Raffarin secured  last month a majority approval of his ruling party to pass the bill.

Mastiri said France’s NGOs and anti-globalization groups are all against the law, adding that such groups are “the strong pulse” of the French street.

Asked whether the poll was part of the escalating phenomenon of Islamophobia in France, the Muslim scholar said Islamophobia is nothing new in society and dates back to the twelfth century.

But he made it clear that the current controversy on hijab was part of an all-inclusive strategy to curb the spread of Islam in France and Europe in general.

Mastiri voiced concern that the issue of Islamic Shariaa [Muslim law] could be used as a pretext to pursue the current anti-Islam campaign.