France Will Not Yield To Iraqi Kidnappers On Headscarf Ban

France Says Will Not Yield To Iraqi Kidnappers On Headscarf Ban (Turkish Press – AFP)

France on Monday vowed not to yield to Islamic militants holding two journalists hostage in Iraq, pledging to implement a ban on headscarves in state schools this week despite threats by the kidnappers. “The law will be applied” from the start of the academic year on Thursday, government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope said, as Foreign Minister Michel Barnier made a passionate plea in Cairo for the release of the two newsmen.
Barnier, sent to the Middle East late Sunday on an urgent mission, said a top diplomat had been sent to Baghdad to help free the two hostages, whose kidnapping has stunned France, a staunch opponent of the US-led war in Iraq.

Late Saturday, a group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq claimed it had kidnapped Radio France correspondent Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot of Le Figaro newspaper, who went missing in Iraq on August 20. The shadowy Sunni Muslim group gave Paris 48 hours — a deadline set to expire late Monday — to rescind its controversial ban on the wearing of Islamic headscarves in state schools and universities. Although it did not explicitly threaten to kill the men, the group murdered an Italian journalist last week after Rome ignored an ultimatum to pull its 3,000 troops out of Iraq.

Asked if there was any chance of the headscarf ban being suspended, Cope told Canal Plus television: “That is not the way to look at the problem. Our aim is to reject any link between the two issues and to emphasize the fact that the values of the French republic are a reference for the world. “These are values of tolerance, respect and above all the principle that in France anyone can exercise his or her religion, while respecting those of others.”

French political leaders from across the spectrum presented a united front on Monday in calling for the release of Chesnot and Malbrunot after morning talks with Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin. “We are together in this trying time and are thinking of these two journalists and their families who are suffering,” said Francois Baroin, interim leader of the ruling center-right Union for a Popular Movement. French President Jacques Chirac postponed a trip to Russia for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder until Tuesday so he could monitor developments in the hostage crisis. Chesnot and Malbrunot vanished in Iraq on August 20, the day they were to have left Baghdad for the holy city of Najaf, then the scene of fierce fighting between US forces and Shiite militia loyal to radical cleric Moqtada Sadr. On Saturday Arabic-language Al-Jazeera television broadcast images of the two men — both Middle East experts with years of experience in the region — along with the ultimatum from the Islamic Army in Iraq on the headscarf law.

Well, it’s good to see France stand up for something. It’s been a while. Granted, it would be preferable if it was for a good thing. But still–credit where credit’s due and all that.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    So it’s good that the French stand up for something that’s fundamentally undemocratic? This whole headscarf thing is silly and we all know it was enacted because if a strong anti-muslim streak in French society. Why don’t we try the same thing in this country and let’s see if our Supreme Court will stand for it.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Read the second of the three sentences I wrote.

  3. McGehee says:

    DCL, it’s not “undemocratic” to impose a restriction that most of the French public supports.

    It is, however, a rather nice example of the weakness of democracy in the absence of other considerations.

  4. kenny says:

    “it’s good to see France stand up for something”

    hmm,i seem to remember the french standing up for for their opposition to the Iraq war.Guess that doesn’t really count though.

  5. legion says:

    One of these days, perhaps, the French government will learn that they cannot lie down with snakes and expect to get up unbitten.

    Then maybe our government could learn the same lesson…

  6. Attila Girl says:

    What a stupid, stupid law. And I don’t think it’s because they are anti-Muslim: I think it’s because they are anti-Jewish and anti-Christian (the same law bans yamulkes and large crosses). But whatever the motivation, it’s a stupid law that restricts freedom of expression and freedom of religion–and severely restricts freedom of movement for Muslim women.

    The only good that might come of this is that a couple of smart French people might wake up and realize that appeasement doesn’t work.

    There’s a sort of gruesome, ugly feeling of . . . something like vindication: “this wasn’t supposed to happen to us; we opposed the bad U.S. and its bad war.”