By failing to learn from history, Jacques Chirac seems condemned to repeat its mistakes. The French President does not need to know much about the history of his own faith to know that suppressing religions tends to be counter-productive. But he has prejudged the recommendation of his expert commission that Muslim headscarves be banned in France's supposedly secular state schools by describing the wearing of a veil as "a sort of aggression".
The question of headscarves has been divisive in French schools for the past two decades. In some schools, people misinterpreted the valuable principle of separating religion from the state and banned them. They then became an important and public symbol, an invitation to young people to rebel.
The most encouraging aspect of yesterday's foolish report was that it united Muslim and Jewish leaders in temperate and rational defence of tolerance. Jews rightly resent the commission's other proposal of a ban on "ostentatious" skull caps and crucifixes. The state should have no right to tell people what to wear just because they are of school age.
But if that argument does not persuade M. Chirac, he should simply ask himself whether a headscarf ban will increase or diminish support for fundamentalist, militant Islam.Reuse content