The announcement of the ban on the abaya at school served its purpose: the debate pitting the supporters of republican order against the defenders of individual freedoms began mechanically.
But what exactly is an abaya? A traditional garment, usually dark in color, covering the body of women from the neck to the toes, and worn mainly in Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia, where it was imposed on women in public spaces until 2018. If it is worn elsewhere by Muslim women, it is by imitation, as a sign of adherence to the particular customs of these countries.
In our high schools and colleges, teenage girls have adopted wearing long, loose dresses for various reasons, it seems. To exhibit their religious beliefs and hide their forms; to thumb their nose at the headscarf ban; out of simple laziness of getting dressed every morning. They are teenagers. If students came to high school with their heads covered in a black lace mantilla or a Borsalino – would school leaders find it difficult to tell them that school is not the place for a carnival?
Under the 2004 law
The abaya has no place in public schools whatever the meaning given to it. If it is a religious sign – which seems difficult to establish – it falls under the 2004 law banning ostentatious religious signs in public spaces; if it is not, it must be prohibited in the name of respect for an institution to which France gives a primordial place.
You need to reread the Five memoirs on public education, written in 1791 by Condorcet to combat the interference of all forms of ideology within the school, rather than putting forward questionable arguments in the name of secularism. It is an old text, but it remains one of the most realistic on the distance that must be maintained between school, whose mission is to emancipate future citizens, and political power, which will always resist poorly. to the temptation to get involved.
Education, writes Condorcet, has the main purpose of correcting the inequality of conditions by offering everyone the same possibility of excellence; by offering everyone the ability to judge the value or truth of opinions, including those of the environment in which they were born; by teaching, not the opposite of what we would like to fight, but the means to escape the tyranny of opinions to which we would not have freely subscribed. Condorcet is admirable for his confidence in individuals.
He believes, like Arendt, that it is decisive for the future to preserve children, within this apolitical space that is the school, from any kind of subjection. “If we tell them: this is what you must worship and believe, then it is a kind of religion that we want to create, (…) and we violate freedom in its most sacred rights, under the pretext of learning to cherish it. The aim of education is not to make men admire ready-made legislation, but to make them capable of appreciating and correcting it. »
Indifferent to politics
The abaya has no place in school because it distinguishes individuals of different opinions, of different origins, subject to different community or religious influences. The abaya separates those who receive public education, “rigorously the same for everyone”aims to bring people together to establish a spirit of fraternity.
Should we reintroduce the uniform to counter the extravagances of students and the devious powers that inspire them? Either. Let the heads of establishments decide it, but they do not expect a minister of “clear instructions”. The public school is sacred, its legitimacy to prohibit the signs of indoctrination is incontestable, only because it also remains indifferent to the requisitions of politics.