When a French official disrupted a regional council meeting to demand that a Muslim woman accompanying a group of schoolchildren be ordered to remove her headscarf, "in the name of our secular principles," her own child buried his head in her shoulder and cried.
The scene — too toxic even for official Julian Odoul's far-right National Rally party — triggered a venomous national debate that is scrambling questions over the headscarf, Islam, immigration and radicalization.
The clamor reached a crescendo with the shooting and wounding Monday of two Muslims outside a mosque in southwest France by a suspect with past links to the anti-immigration National Rally. The 84-year-old alleged gunman told investigators he attacked "to avenge the destruction of Notre Dame," Paris' grand cathedral ravaged by fire in April — which he blamed, inexplicably, on Muslims.
In other times, the Oct. 11 confrontation at the council meeting in Dijon might have been but one more installment in France's decades-long battle with itself over how to define, and enforce, secularism, a principle inscribed in the constitution more than a century ago to ensure neutrality regarding religions.
But today's uproar illustrates the growing unease — even contempt — by some sectors of society toward those Muslims seen as failing to join the French melting pot. Some contend it shows the normalization of Islamophobia in France.
"The veil (headscarf) is seen as the symbol par excellence of religious visibility" and is "seen by some ... as linked to radicalization," said Nicolas Cadene, No. 2 in the government's Observatory of Secularism.
"We're in a climate of a meeting of fears, emotions, instincts," he said in an interview.
For Cadene, French society is growing polarized as one part increasingly turns away from religion while another, notably Muslims, grows more visible. The attack inside Paris police headquarters early this month by a Muslim intelligence employee that left four dead raised already percolating tensions, he said.
In all cases, he said, the debate shows the confusion over the 1905 law separating church and state, the basis of the country's unusually important secular identity. He said the law is not meant to protect a "mythical identity, white and of Catholic culture" promoted by some.
Islam is the No. 2 religion in a largely Catholic nation where many, especially the anti-immigration far-right, hone to France's roots and view its Muslim population, which grew from the nation's colonial past, as intruders and a threat to the French way of life, including secularism.
Fifteen years ago, France forbid students from wearing "ostentatious" religious signs in classrooms. Seven years later, it became illegal to wear face-covering veils in French streets. While all showy religious signs are included in the 2004 law and all garments covering the face are banned in the 2011 measure, it has never been a secret that Muslims were the target.
The mother who was the focus of Julian Odoul's anger has said she decided to accompany a class because her son implored her to go.
"What he told me when he was crying is that he felt everyone was against me," the woman, identified only as Fatima E., told the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, which published the interview.
"I felt a rejection I've never felt before," she said. "Today, I have a negative opinion of what is called the Republic."
A caustic political climate five months before municipal elections is feeding today's debate. A tattered mainstream right is trying to rebuild itself by playing the anti-immigration card, while a newly strengthened far right tries to lure them to its ranks.
The French Senate approved a bill Tuesday proposed by the mainstream right that would oblige women wearing headscarves to remove them when accompanying school outings. The bill has almost no chance of becoming law since the lower chamber, controlled by President Emmanuel Macron's centrist party, will almost certainly axe it.
But the issue sparks discord even within Macron's government. For Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer, "it is not desirable" for a mother to wear a headscarf on a field trip. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe says that it's fine — as long as the mother doesn't proselytize.
Macron has shown cautious opposition to the idea.
"The wearing of a veil (head covering) in public spaces is not my affair," he said last week. "Laicite (secularism) isn't about that."
The real concern, he stressed, is stigmatization of Muslims, the majority of whom have adopted the French way of life.
Macron has concentrated on fighting radicalization and the apparent growth among Muslims of a community-based identity, which the French widely view as fertile ground for the propagation of political Islam.
For some, the issues are linked.
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen views the constant debate over the Muslim headscarf as a result of "massive immigration," which, she contends, leads to such closed communities.
"The veil is an ideological marker. It's a marker of identity," she said recently, also calling it a "political weapon" and "an infraction of secularism."
A poll by the Ifop firm published Sunday suggested that eight of 10 French think secularism is in danger.
For Muslim groups, the mosque attack was the culmination of a growing climate of hate.
A noted Lyon-area imam, Kamel Kabtane, denounced what he said was the "fractious and dangerous media and political campaign against Islam and Muslims."
Muslims fear more of the same from "the entrepreneurs of hate and violence" who want to "pit French against French," he said.
Barely a day goes by without a new round of soul-searching over secularism by politicians and pundits getting an unfiltered hearing in the French media.
Abdallah Zekri, council member and head of the Observatory for Islamophobia, suggested that those who use Islam to build their reputations via TV talk shows simply "shut up."
Russia's Borei A-class strategic nuclear submarine Prince Vladimir has successfully test fired a Bulava ballistic missile, the Russian Defense Ministry said Wednesday.
The missile was launched from an underwater position in the White Sea to the Kura range on the Kamchatka Peninsula in far eastern Russia, it said in a statement.
The flight of the missile proceeded in normal mode, and its dummy warheads were delivered to the range at a set time, it said.
Borei-A-class submarines, capable of carrying up to 16 Bulava intercontinental ballistic missiles each, are an upgraded version of previous Borei-class vessels. These submarines are expected to form the basis of Russia's naval strategic nuclear force.
Four Borei-class submarines have been built so far. The Yuri Dolgoruky submarine is serving the Northern Fleet, while the other two -- Alexander Nevsky and Vladimir Monomakh -- are with the Pacific Fleet.
The Prince Vladimir was floated out in 2017 and is undergoing sea trials.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn were set to trade barbs over Brexit and public spending Wednesday when they face off in Parliament for the last time before a Dec. 12 general election.
The House of Commons on Tuesday approved an early election in hopes of breaking the deadlock over Britain's departure from the European Union. While Johnson's Conservative Party has a wide lead in opinion polls, analysts say the election is unpredictable because Brexit cuts across traditional party loyalties.
Johnson and Corbyn will trade carefully crafted quips when they face off in their regularly scheduled question-and-answer session. This will be the last episode of Prime Minister's Questions before Parliament is suspended for the election.
Johnson has told Conservative lawmakers this will be a "tough election."
After three years of inconclusive political wrangling over Brexit, British voters are weary and the results of an election are hard to predict.
The House of Commons voted 438-20 on Tuesday night — with dozens of lawmakers abstaining — for a bill authorizing an election on Dec. 12. It will become law once it is approved Wednesday by the unelected House of Lords, which doesn't have the power to overrule the elected Commons.
The looming vote comes two and a half years before the next scheduled election, due in 2022, and will be the country's first December election since 1923.
Meanwhile, the Brexit conundrum remains unsolved — and the clock is ticking down to the new deadline of Jan. 31.
"To my British friends," European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted Tuesday. "The EU27 has formally adopted the extension. It may be the last one. Please make the best use of this time."
A respected British think tank has slammed Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Brexit deal, concluding that the economy would be 3.5% smaller compared with staying in the European Union.
The National Institute of Economic and Social Research study released Wednesday says the agreement would deliver a 70 billion-pound ($90 billion) blow to the UK.
The researchers based their prediction on the assumption that the U.K. would leave the bloc with a free trade agreement with the EU after a transition lasting until 2021 while negotiating new deals with other nations.
Britain's government says it plans a "more ambitious" trade deal with the EU than the one considered by the think tank.
The research suggested a no-deal Brexit would cause an even greater loss to the economy, with a 5.6% blow to GDP.
London, Oct 29 (AP/UNB) — The Seychelles president is warning there's no time for a "blame game" in the fight against climate change and he urges major nations to do more.
President Danny Faure in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press says small island nations like his are the least responsible for the problem but among the most vulnerable as sea levels rise.
"The science is clear," he said. "The scientists have spoken. We all know that we have a problem. What is needed is responsible global action."
Earlier this year Faure gave a groundbreaking speech from a submersible hundreds of meters below the Indian Ocean surface to highlight the fragility of one of the world's least explored ecosystems.
He said the time to act on climate change is now.
Faure recently visited the British-led Nekton Mission, which earlier this year spent seven weeks surveying Seychelles waters. The island nation of fewer than 100,000 people is on track to protect almost a third of its waters by next year, a sea area larger than Germany.
But already rising water temperatures are bleaching the Seychelles' coral reefs. The increased frequency of extreme weather events is another threat.
Even plastic waste poses a problem.
The UNESCO World Heritage site of Aldabra, an important turtle nesting site, receives mounds of plastic waste brought on the waves.
"A total of 25,750 kilograms of marine debris was collected, out of which 50,000 single flip flops," Faure said. "It just shows you the amount of pollution caused by marine debris to one of the pristine sites that we have."
For the Nekton Mission, marine scientists from the University of Oxford surveyed underwater life, mapped large areas of the sea floor and ventured deep beneath the waves with manned submersibles and remote vehicles.
The scientists plan to present their research at a summit on the state of the Indian Ocean in 2022.
Researcher Paris Stefanoudis said they are "pretty confident" they have discovered new species, from small zooplankton to soft corals, but the discoveries are yet to be scientifically verified.
"There was an incredible diversity and abundance of fish, especially in protected areas like Aldabra, which shows that marine protected areas do work when they are put in place," Stefanoudis said.
Research assistant Nico Fassbender said it is clear the Seychelles' policy of protecting its waters is working.
"It's reflected in the fish," he said. "Not just by the amount that we see, as in there's more fish than on unprotected islands, but also because there's bigger fish, which then tells us it's a healthier ecosystem."
Faure said he is hopeful the scientists' conclusions will give the international community more reason to protect marine areas.
"We as a country will be in a position scientifically to say, 'This is how we measure and this is the difference,'" he said.