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French Muslim girls flee to private school

Girls seek out private Islamic schools where they can wear headscarves.

Still, Waridel decried what he perceived as “a great movement of Islamophobia in France," a country that more than 5 million Muslims call home, and the double standard that seeks to choke the “success of those who shouldn’t succeed.”

After five years of existence, a private school in France can apply for state subsidies, provided it meets certain criteria and follows the state curriculum. Although Reussite has existed for nine years, it has yet to qualify for any aid, despite submitting the required paperwork, according to Waridel.

For funding, it relies largely on the 2,500 euro annual tuition per student as well as donations from local businesses and private sources. And now the money is running out, Waridel said.

“We understood there was a block somewhere” on the school’s state funding, said Waridel. Currently, the school is seeking redress through the courts.

"They are doing everything to survive," said Jacques Salvator, the Socialist mayor of Aubervilliers. "They are on the verge of ruin." He said that "resistance from the government" was one of the reasons for the hold-up in the application for state funding. While it might have to do with a fear of Islamic fundamentalism or the perception that the school would run counter to integration, Salvator said that a poorly timed legal dispute involving one of the founders of the school may also have played a role in the funding delay.

While decisions about Reussite's future wind their way through the legal system, it is business as usual in the classroom. On a recent Saturday, the place was buzzing with the sounds of students attending weekend Arabic courses.

Dib was on hand to help students having difficulty. She said she didn’t mind her 90-minute commute to school and was grateful her family could afford the fee. “Here, it is calmer,” she said. “In public school, there are always fights.” Just last week, a 19-year-old man young man was stabbed in the chest and seriously injured by a 17-year-old student in a fight outside a public school in Aubervilliers, news reports said.

The school is not only a haven for students but also for veiled female staff who would otherwise have difficulty getting work in a public school while wearing religious garb.

Myriam Hacib, 22, an administrative assistant and classroom monitor, previously worked as a store cashier but found it difficult to manage having to remove her hijab every time she entered or left work. Once, as she exited a train, someone feigned surprise and commented she looked like a ghost. “We’re judged right away [in France] and that hurts," she said.

When the discussion turned to the recent law seeking to ban the niqab in France, set to take effect this fall after a final legislative step next month, both young women had a similar reaction. “To ban the burqa is really like chasing a flea,” said Dib.

“It’s a shame because this is a country of freedom,” said Hacib. “I am French, I was born here but I don’t feel French.”