by: Leslie Bunder - Last updated: 2004-02-10
Religious leaders meeting with London Mayor
London Mayor Ken Livingstone has written to the Prime Minister of France, asking the French government to reconsider proposals to ban the wearing of the hijab and other religious symbols such as Yarmulkes in state schools.
At the same time, Mr Livingstone has hosted a press conference attended by religious leaders including Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and Christian. Representing the Jewish community was Rabbi Herschel Gluck, Chairman of the Council of Muslims and Jews, Stamford Hill, London.
In the letter, to Prime Minister Jean-Pièrre Raffarin, the Mayor writes:
As the elected representative of London I have a duty to promote equality of opportunity for all in London. London's diverse population includes large Muslim communities and I am very concerned to ensure their full inclusion in the city's life. Any form of discrimination against their cultural and religious freedom has, in my view, the effect of stigmatising them. I believe that a move to ban the hijab and other religious symbols in state schools will inflame current tensions between communities and encourage attacks on minority communities, not only in France but also more widely in Europe. I realise that we come from political traditions, which approach this issue from different perspectives.
London's Sikh community also viewed with considerable concern the sight of their co-religionists demonstrating in Paris over the recent weekend. The Sikh community in the UK went through this debate in the 1960s when Sikhs won the right to wear the turban while undertaking policing duties. This issue has, of course, an effect on Jewish, Hindu and Christian communities too.
I would, therefore, like to appeal to you to reconsider restricting fundamental religious freedoms in France through the proposed legislation."