January 21, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 61  

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Locals to protest French law banning symbols

By Jonathan Yazer
Gazette Staff

A group of concerned Muslim women at Western have been inspired by international protests against controversial legislation being proposed in France.

Razia Hamidi is one of the organizers of a rally to be held in London this Saturday exactly one week after concurrent, worldwide protests were staged in opposition to proposed French legislation banning indiscreet religious symbols such as the hijab, skullcaps and large crucifixes from being worn in public institutions.

“There can be no toleration, under the guise of religious freedom, of people contesting the Republic’s laws and principles,” said French President Jacques Chirac in a speech made on Dec. 17, 2003.

“For us, this is a rule of law,” Chirac said. “No French citizens must be able to suspect a public official, because of his or her personal beliefs, of either according them special treatment or discriminating against them.”

Local organizers are hoping the rally will raise local awareness. “A lot of the people we’ve spoken to don’t know about this, about how girls are being forced to choose between education or abiding [by] their religion,” Hamidi said.

“It’s my hope that this will raise awareness about the issue,” said Adrienne Kennedy, VP-campus issues for the University Students’ Council. “It’s great to see Western students getting involved.”
Hamidi said the rally is expected to draw at least 500 people of various religious and political affiliations, and will feature speakers and a petition opposing the law.

Sana Fakih, social commissioner for the Muslim Students’ Association, explained the requirement to wear the hijab is found within the text of the Qur’an. “This is not just a man-made law. God told us to do this.”

Hamidi said the hijab is more than a religious symbol. “It is an obligation sent down from God. It should be an individual’s choice whether to follow the commandments of God.

“If it can work here, it can work in France,” she said, adding Canada is a prime example of a country that has successfully mixed religious tolerance and secular values.

In his speech, Chirac alluded to rising religious tensions in France. “[Our objective] is to make the young people involved understand what is at stake and protect them from influences and passions which, far from liberating them or allowing them to make free choices, constrain or threaten them.”

But Hamidi offered a different perspective. “Being secular means being neutral, not taking sides.”

Fakih stressed the invitation to the rally is open to all concerned members of the London community. “Everyone is welcome.”

The rally will be held this Saturday at 1 p.m. in Victoria Park, at the corner of Central and Richmond Sts.



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