France Divided on Islamic Head Scarves Fri Dec 12, 2:38 PM ET By JOHN LEICESTER, Associated Press Writer PARIS - After Friday prayers at a Paris mosque, a simple question about the possibility of France outlawing Islamic head scarves in schools provoked a heated protest. AP Photo "I urge all our brothers not to take their kids to school!" cried Mohammed, a Muslim of North African origin. The crowd, drawn by his appeals, murmured its approval. The danger of France's new effort to protect its secular traditions, these angry young men said, is that it will drive Muslims even further away from the rest of the country. But Bernard Stasi, the head of a presidential panel that recommended the law against head scarves and other religious symbols in schools, including Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses, indicated Friday that France has no choice. The law, Stasi said, will not solve all the country's problems with its large, often poorly integrated immigrant community. But he said France cannot allow Muslims to undermine its core values, which include a strict separation of religion and state, equality between the sexes and freedom for all. "There are indisputably Muslims or ... groups seeking to test the resistance of the Republic, that bear a grudge against the values of the Republic, that want France to no longer be France," Stasi said on France-Inter radio. "We cannot tolerate that." His commission's report, released Thursday, painted a grim picture of a nation struggling to accommodate different races, cultures and religions while clinging to the belief that secularism best ensures equality for all. French public schools should be neutral grounds that protect students from the "violence and furies of society" outside, the report said. Yet, in school playgrounds, Jewish children are commonly insulted as "dirty Jew" and it "can be dangerous" for them to wear skullcaps on the street or on public transportation, said the 67-page report, the result of six months of study. One student told the commission that at their high school any Jew who wore a skullcap would be "lynched." Efforts to teach Jewish history are treated with such derision in some schools that instruction about the Holocaust "becomes impossible," the report said. In some urban ghettos, meanwhile, young Muslim women are forced to cover up and lower their eyes before men; otherwise "they are stigmatized as 'whores,'" the report said. It added that preteen girls are sometimes forced to wear head scarves, and that some fathers or husbands have refused to let male doctors treat their wives or daughters in hospitals. "Basic rights of women are today scorned on a daily basis in our country. Such a situation is unacceptable," the report said. President Jacques Chirac, who has previously made clear his opposition to head scarves in schools, is expected to announce Wednesday his stance on a law based on the panel's recommendations. Any law against head scarves would alienate young Muslims like those who spoke with such passion outside the ramshackle mosque in a poor, multiracial section of Paris' 18th district. Women "are emeralds, jewels the more they are shielded, the more beautiful they become. They lose their luster if they are outdoors," said Riadh Chabaoui, in his 20s. "In religious life, women must wear veils." Mohammed, who wouldn't give his full name, said legislating against head scarves would backfire. He said he tells his wife that she's beautiful in her scarf because it is "the flag of all Muslims." "If you make me choose between breaking the law and breaking the Quran, I'll break the law," he said, referring to the Muslim holy book. "Today, they forbid us from wearing veils. Tomorrow, they'll forbid us from being Muslims." Non-Muslims also warned that a law could carry dangers. "Secularism has worked until now," said Monsignor Jean-Michel di Falco, auxiliary bishop of Gap, in southeastern France. "In my opinion, a law risks making this problem even harder to manage." About 7 percent of France's 60 million people are Muslims; Jews make up 1 percent of the population. Many Muslims immigrated from France's former North African colonies after World War II, working in factories and living in suburbs now corroded by unemployment and crime. Stasi acknowledged some "immigrants feel they are not considered to be completely French, feel that they are victims of discrimination." "In such conditions, it is not surprising that they seek refuge in what is called their community and that they lend a too-often sympathetic ear to those who cast doubt on the values of our Republic," he said. Not all Muslims oppose banning head scarves. Some say a law would protect young girls from male relatives who force them to cover up. "The veil is for home," said an elderly African begging outside the mosque, who spoke up only after the crowd of younger men had dispersed. "When you are at school, or in the office, take it off," he said, adding: "If you don't like that, go back to your own country."