There is perhaps no time like the present to be working in the French national public education system. I'm sure most of you are familiar with the bruhaha being made over the French headscarf ban currently in the spotlight throughout the world. I experience the oddness of this law every day as I watch my female students - at least a quarter of which are Muslim - walk up to school with their scarves on, only to take them off before entering the school gates. The process is reversed when they leave the grounds for lunch, and they again take off their scarves when they come back for afternoon classes. Watching them go through this ritual every day makes me wonder what kind of a message is being sent to young Muslim women in France: "Sure, you can live here, but you can't be you."
While I can't really underestand the headscarf ban, I accept that I am in a different country with a different culture and that things are just done differently here. In France, apparently, such basic liberties as wearing one's own religious symbols CAN be regulated by the state. But I never thought it would get to the point where the French government would consider outlawing beards. Even worse, the BBC reports:
That's basically another way of saying that a whitey can have a beard, but nobody else. On NPR, I heard that they were thinking of telling Sikhs - who are not allowed to cut their hair - to wear hairnets instead of turbans. Hairnets! When are they going to stop and ask themselves if they're taking things too far?
At the high school this morning, we tried to make a joke of it. "Jamel, you better shave tomorrow or you might be out of a job." and "Phillipe, your stubble is dangerously bordering on beard-like. I'd get that mess under wraps if I were you." We had a good laugh, to the point where the entire teachers' lounge was laughing at once, but the laughter faded quickly as we realized exactly what we were laughing about.
"Well, I guess we have to laugh about it. Otherwise we'll cry," said one young teacher, seguing into the debate that brought up all the major issues: limiting personal freedom, racism, hypocrisy. I'm sure they're not going to look to outlaw Jacques Dupont and his gray, stately beard, but I'd be willing to bet that Samir Waddafi will be stopped at the high school entrance for any sort of facial stubble. The underlying message is that France's 5,000,000+ Muslims are not really welcome here, and that France has no problem making that as clear as possible. And it's disgusting.
"Well," said Fabrice, lightening the mood, "It's no big deal really. If some guy has a religious beard, he can just take it off at the school entrance, just like the girls." Everyone giggled before he continued, "Even worse: do you think that if a girl took off her scarf, and it turned out she had a little bit of a beard, would they make her shave it, too?"