Symptomatic Politics

The Banning of Islamic Head Scarves in French Public Schools

in French Politics, Culture & Society

The events that became known as the affaires de foulard began on 3 October 1989, when three Muslim girls who refused to remove their head scarves were expelled from their middle school in the town of Creil, about thirty miles outside of Paris. The headmaster, Eugène Chenière, claimed he was acting to enforce laïcité––the French version of secularism. According to Chenière, laïcité–– a concept whose meaning would be furiously debated in the months and years that followed––was an inviolable and transparent principle, one of the pillars of republican universalism. The school was the cradle of laïcité, the place where the values of the French republic were nurtured and inculcated. It was, therefore, in the public schools that France had to hold the line against what he later termed “the insidious jihad.”

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