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.