A PDF version of the letter can be downloaded by clicking on the link below.
The full text is pasted below:
President Jacques Chirac
c/o French Ambassador
11th January 2004
Dear Monsieur Chirac,
Re: The ban on ostentatious religious symbols in French schools and the persecution of Muslim women in France
We are writing to you today with deep sadness to protest your government’s actions subsequent to the reporting of the Stasi commission, but also the effect that your government’s specifically anti-Islamic stance has had on wider French society.
The arguments put forward by politicians in your government and parliament as well as other actors on this issue are well-rehearsed. We would briefly like to address a few that have been raised.
Your government has claimed that the secularism you are enforcing somehow ensures respect for all creeds and beliefs and equal rights for all. How can this be the case when such a ban and indeed the similar bans that prevent women wearing a scarf from having a civil marriage ceremony, passport and ID cards discriminate against Muslim women in the enjoyment of French citizens’ rights. Your government’s and institutions’ actions have violated their rights to an education, work, free movement and free religious expression.
Whilst the school ban ostensibly also targets Christians and Jews, the Islamic dress for women differs in that it is a mandatory part of the Islamic faith. The French state’s attempts to force women to abandon their religious practice is the every antithesis of freedom and equality. If anything it evidences a fanatical desire to control women’s minds and bodies.
Many concerns have been raised about so-called integration of minorities into French society and social cohesion. How can you possibly have an integrated or harmonious society when you are forcing whole communities of women to its margins? Already we have reports of hospitals denying Muslim women treatment. Those who are allowed in will be forced according to the Stasi commission’s recommendations to be seen by male doctors even if they don’t want to be examined by a man. Your political classes have made noises regarding these measures as somehow designed to promote women’s rights. This is an affront to the common sense and ethics of every principled human being.
Not only are these actions anti-Islamic they are misogynistic. Further you are not only violently excluding Muslim women, and denying them their agency by deciding what you believe to be best for them and / or French society as if they were not part of it, you are demonising Islam and Muslims in a catastrophic manner. When Bernard Stasi himself has been quoted as saying that the new law is meant to counter ‘forces that are trying to destabilise the country’ and that, ‘there are indisputably Muslims or…groups seeking to test the resistance of the Republic, that bear a grudge against the values of the Republic, that want France to no longer be France’ you are casting Muslim women and Muslims in general in the role of the enemy within. We do not need to remind you of Europe’s recent history and the last time when this was done to a minority community in a European country.
Just as you described Muslim women wearing hijab as “something aggressive” so too did Adolf Hitler describe the Jews of Europe. We urge your government to halt its steady but sure course towards a violent fascism that can only lead to disastrous consequences.
International Islamic Women Organisation
140 Maida Vale
T 020 7604 5500
Islamic Human Rights Commission
PO Box 598
T 020 8904 4222