...how soon until they cave? (Link I provided earlier did not get you to the full story without registering) TERRORISM Hostages Urge France to Repeal Its Scarf Ban By ELAINE SCIOLINO Published: August 31, 2004 ARIS, Aug. 30 - Two French journalists held hostage in Iraq have urged the French government to give in to their captors' demand by revoking a law banning Muslim head scarves in public schools, the Arabic-language television station Al Jazeera reported Monday night. Otherwise, they said, they might be killed. Advertisement Quoting a written statement, the station reported that the Islamic Army of Iraq, the little-known group that kidnapped the two men, had decided to extend by 24 hours the deadline for Paris to lift the ban. On Saturday night, the group gave France 48 hours to cancel the ban, although it did not issue a specific threat against the men's lives. The journalists, Georges Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot, shown in a video broadcast by Al Jazeera on Monday night unshaven and seated together, urged the French people to hold protests to persuade the government to retract the law. "I call on President Chirac and the French government to show good will toward the Arab and Islamic worlds by revoking the ban on wearing the Islamic veil immediately," said Mr. Chesnot, who works for Radio France Internationale and Radio France. "I also urge all French citizens to demonstrate against this law and demand its cancellation because it is wrong and unjust." He added: "Failure to revoke it might cost us our lives. It's a question of time - maybe minutes - before we are among the dead." His fellow hostage, Georges Malbrunot, who writes for the daily newspapers Le Figaro and Ouest-France, said, "I appeal to the French people and every Frenchman who appreciates the meaning of life to stage demonstrations demanding that the law banning the Islamic veil be revoked, because our lives are in danger and we might die any minute if this law, which I urge President Chirac to revoke, is not abrogated." They spoke in English and their words were translated into Arabic. The law bans conspicuous religious symbols from public elementary and high schools. It is scheduled to go into effect when schools open on Thursday. The French government has begun an intense diplomatic effort to free the two men but made clear earlier on Monday that it would not allow the fate of the hostages to interfere with the enforcement of the new law. The Foreign Ministry had no comment on the hostages' statements or the extension of the deadline. But the center-right government is unlikely to back down on a law that it says is based on republican values that hark back to the 1789 Revolution and preserve the country's secular identity. On Monday, in a rare display of national unity before the Jazeera report was shown, French officials, opposition politicians and religious leaders joined in a chorus condemning the kidnappings and pledging to uphold the law. "It is democracy that is attacked and the laws of the republic that are targeted," said François Hollande, the leader of the Socialist opposition. Several thousand people gathered in Paris on Monday afternoon to demonstrate solidarity with the two journalists and the French state, chanting "Free the hostages," and singing "La Marseillaise." In Cairo, Foreign Minister Michel Barnier began an emergency diplomatic mission to free the two men. Islamic groups inside and outside Iraq urged the kidnappers to release the journalists, noting France's opposition to the Iraq war and saying journalists were not combatants. But Iraq's prime minister, Ayad Allawi, said the kidnapping proved that France's position on Iraq - presumably its opposition to the war and the absence of a troop presence - offered no protection from terrorism. "Neutrality doesn't exist, as the kidnapping of the French journalists has shown,'' Mr. Allawi said in an interview with several European and American newspapers. "The French are deluding themselves if they think they can remain outside of this. Today the extremists are targeting them, too.'' That realization, that opposition to the American-led war in Iraq has not provided immunity from Iraq-related terrorism, appears to have sunk in here as well. "Nobody is safe,'' said an editorial in Le Monde on Monday. "No diplomacy can claim to be any kind of Maginot line that would protect us better than our Spanish or Italian neighbors from the death wish that has been at work since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.'' Indeed, in an audiotape broadcast by a Dubai-based television channel in February, Ayman Zawahiri, the No. 2 figure in the terrorist network Al Qaeda, condemned France for defending the freedom of nudity and depravity and fighting chastity and decency with the scarf ban, adding that such anti-Muslim acts by the West should be dealt with by tank shells and antiaircraft missiles. French Muslim leaders called the ban on religious symbols strictly an internal French issue and advised all outsiders to stay out. "The hostage takers are crazy people, and what they are asking is madness,'' Dr. Thomas Milcent, a Strasbourg physician and convert to Islam who runs a popular Islamic Web site, said in a telephone interview on Monday. "We don't want anyone to tell us what to do.'' Still, the kidnapping has reopened the debate here on whether the ban is a necessary means to protect secularism or a violation of religious freedom. Even as the center-right French government and many Muslim leaders called for the strict separation of church and state, some Muslim leaders were calling for Muslim girls to test the limits of the law by hiding at least some of their hair. In an interview in Le Figaro, Lhaj Thami Breze, president of the conservative Union of French Islamic Organizations, denounced the kidnappers as enemies of Islam. But he also said the law banned only conspicuous signs of religion. "Discreet signs are authorized,'' he said. "We certainly insist on this point. We hope that the administrative heads will follow the path of compromise, accepting a discreet scarf rather than imposing rules exceeding the law.''