It’s all French to Livingstone

Letter in Morning Star, 2 April 2005

I know that Yasmin Qureshi came to Paris on behalf of her boss, the Mayor of London (Morning Star, March 23), but I don’t know why she bothered to cross the Channel.

Convinced, like Mayor Livingstone, that the one-hundred-year-old ban on the wearing of religious clothing or symbols in state schools is a bad thing, she only talked, as far as one can deduce from her article, with those who share the same point of view.

But the law insisting on strict secularity in schools and public agencies has the support of the large majority of French people.

And before this is dismissed as an indication of racism amongst the French, it should be understood that the law is supported by a majority of French Muslims, many of whom, particularly women, are the most fervent supporters of secular education.

It seems clear that Ms Qureshi didn’t find it worth her while to talk to anyone from the French Socialist Party, the trade unions, anti-racist organisations, to teachers, representatives of parent-teacher organisations, or from French women’s organisations, in particular Ni Putes Ni Soumises, all of which overwhelmingly back the law.

If she had, she probably wouldn’t have agreed with them, but she would at least have understood the reasoning of French progressives, and have been able to explain in her article the cultural and historical differences which lead French anti-racists and feminists to regard the stance of those like Ken Livingstone as ignorant and reactionary.

Her visit would also have been more useful to mutual understanding if she had talked not only to those close to Tariq Ramadan, hardly representative of French Muslims, but to the Rector of the Paris Mosque, or from the French Council of Muslims, who, though unhappy with the law, advised students to comply with it.

If so, readers might in future be spared the shrill, confused, but smug article by her boss (Morning Star, March 19) which verges on xenophobia in its regard of the French.

The London approach is neither the only nor necessarily the best way to encourage and celebrate multiculturalism.

Peter Duffy
Choisy le Roi, France