Ken Livingstone yesterday hosted the first conference of a campaign to safeguard the right of Muslim women to wear the hijab or headscarf, and declared the ban in French schools the most reactionary proposal since the second world war.
London’s mayor also railed against the “demonisation” of Islam in some British newspapers – and warned that in his second term he would examine whether media organisations’ recruitment policies reflected the diversity of the community.
He was addressing the Assembly for the Protection of Hijab (known as Pro-Hijab), which holds that the right to wear the headscarf is a fundamental aspect of religious freedom.
It was formed after the French government banned pupils at state schools from wearing obviously religious symbols, including the headscarf, the Jewish skullcap, the Sikh turban, and prominent Christian crucifixes.
The issue is not confined to France. Several German states are to ban teachers from wear ing headscarves, and last month the European court of human rights rejected appeals by a Turkish student barred from attending Istanbul University medical school because her headscarf violated the official dress code.
“The French ban is the most reactionary proposal to be considered by any parliament in Europe since the second world war,” Mr Livingstone told a packed City Hall. “I am determined London’s Muslims should never face similar restrictions. It marks a move towards religious intolerance which we in Europe swore never to repeat, having witnessed the devastating effects of the Holocaust.”
The Pro-Hijab organisation was only formed in February but its conference was heavily over-subscribed. More than 250 people from 15 countries packed the assembly chamber.
Abeer Pharaon, coordinator of Pro-Hijab, gave a forceful speech on what she called a worrying trend developing across Europe.
“The governments of some of these countries have claimed that they are protecting Muslim women from being forced into wearing the hijab,” she said. “They think we are weak and controlled by our husbands and fathers. I assure you we are not. We are liberated, highly educated.”