Learning from life has been a truly incredible experience. I have literally learned from life during my time in France. I was aware of the separation of religion and state before coming to the country. However, my eyes were opened after being submerged in the culture of my school. The French Education system is considered to be ‘Laique’ which translates to Secularism. Children are not allowed to wear religious dress or symbols, and neither are the teachers (Le Pen, 2015). This is a big difference between France and Scotland, as Religious and Moral Education is a subject that is compulsory in Primary school, up until fourth year of high school.
By definition a secular state is neutral, supporting neither religion or irreligion. However, over the past decade we have seen in certain countries that claim to support secularism extreme measures have been taken in order to minimize their association with specific religions.
France a so called ‘secular’ state, has over recent years, introduced many laws and bans concerning faith with particular emphasis on the outlawing or restriction of religious clothing and symbols. On the one hand this shows that France is not actually Secular through the actions taken. However, they deem this acceptable as they want to hold on to tradition. In this day and age, we are teaching people the importance of living in a multi-cultural society and creating a kind equality within the subject of religion. How open are we to the idea of religion and the beliefs people entail? Many religions are targeted in France regarding the way in which they promote their beliefs through dress however it is the Muslim community that most greatly affected. This is an important issue as this kind of discrimination could be the answer as to why over recent years there have been so many problems in the world over the debate of religion.
France has one of the biggest Muslim communities in Europe. Due to their beliefs many Islamic women chose to wear their traditional headdress most commonly known as the Burqa. However, in 2010 a law was passed in France claiming that women were prohibited from wearing these headscarves in public places as they covered their face to almost its entirety. This motion was known at the time as ‘Ban the Burqa’ (Willsher, 2014). This in effect was a way of taking away a woman’s identity. We can see that through this non-secular act that the relationship between themselves and their religion was compromised due to the ban. This caused outcry amongst the Muslim community as the country many Muslims knew as their home was questioning the ethics of their belief system. This was an extremely controversial law to pass however the French merely said that the ban was put in place to maintain the tradition of the country in strictly separating state and religion. This evidence shows that this so called secular state were imposing such a law that could in theory cause the Muslim community to turn against their country causing disruption, something in which France was seemingly trying to avoid.
I was placed in a school that happens to be situated beside a mosque. This meant that most of the children in my school were in fact Muslim. This is information I was told by the teacher as the children are obviously unable to express their religion in the classroom. I was very interested to find out more about the French Education system and the concept of ‘Laique’. Having studied higher Religious, Moral and Philosophical Education at secondary school I have a lot of prior knowledge regarding the separation of religion and state, however, I had never studied this in relation to the education system. It was very interesting for me to be submerged in such an ethnic school, where I was able to witness the concept of Laique.
I was very surprised at the way I felt when walking through the school neighbourhood in the morning and after school. I felt people in the street looking at me in wonderment. Each day I would think to myself, what are other people thinking, am I dressed appropriately, why are they looking at me? This was the first time I had ever been seen as a minority. I was aware that I looked different from everyone else around me and I had never experienced that before coming to France. Scotland is a Christian country, therefore, growing up in a society that is predominately white, and Christian meant that I was never exposed to many other ethnicities throughout my time at school. I had never walked down the street and stood out in the crowd.
This experience has allowed me to consider the way in which various ethnicities face discrimination on a daily basis, in particular, the Muslim community. Over recent years, the religion of Islam has been heavily targeted. They are branded terrorists, unhuman. This issue is something I have always been passionate about and furthermore after my experience in a French primary school. The other students in France were not in the same school setting as myself and I am so grateful that my French school experience was so different from that in Scotland. Discrimination against ethnicities can be seen every day. I have heard people speak of the families in my school’s neighbourhood in a derogatory manor and it makes me so angry. What gives anyone the right to judge another person based on their religion? People who associate terrorist atrocities with a particular religion are ignorant and uneducated. It is evil people who do these terrible things and try to use religion as an excuse.
Because of the stereotype that has developed over recent years, the Muslim community have been targeted more than any religion and face constant discrimination for their beliefs. Over the past six weeks I have had the opportunity to get to know my CM2 and CP classes, whom all belong to the Muslim community. And it’s true, a child is a child, no matter their religion, race, upbringing. They enjoy the same things as the children anywhere. It makes me sick to think that these children and their families have to deal with any kind of discrimination. I have met some of the kindest, most genuine children during my time at the school.
France, as a republican country is seen to welcome ‘immigrants’ equals, only if they become like the French natives. They must adopt the French language, culture and values. Religions is seen as a private matter and is something that should be practiced in your own time, not expressed publically. Over recent years, there have been protests from women belonging to the Muslim community. Many girls have faced expulsion in schools due to them insisting on wearing their religious headdress in school (King, 2004). This shows that to concept of Laicité has caused many problems within the Education system. Although a lot of people accept the laws, there are still people that believe it is their right to express their beliefs, just as we do in Britain.
This experience has allowed to see first-hand the importance of living in an accepting and multi-cultural society. I am now more educated about the way in which the French education system incorporates the concept of Laique in school of such concentrated ethnicity. Being placed in such an ethnic area has allowed me to see that the republican laws do not seem to have a negative impact on my school personally. The children, although all belonging to the same religious group do not voice this whilst in school. They accept that school is not the place where religions is discussed.