Lila and Alma Levy, aged 18 and 16, were suspended two weeks ago from the Henri-Wallon Lycee in Aubervilliers after refusing to loosen their scarves so as to reveal "ears, neck and roots of hair”.

“The upholders of radical intolerance can be very satisfied,” said Laurent Levy, a human rights lawyer who describes himself as an atheist Jew.  “My daughters only want to study and they have been stopped," he said on Sunday.

Lila and Alma, whose mother is a non-practising Muslim of Algerian origin, have become the latest focus in the bitter debate over whether headscarves, compulsory wear for Muslim women, are a breach of France's century-old separation of religion and state.

The row has caused a deep split in left-wing political circles, with traditional secularists opposed by a powerful lobby who believe that excluding the girls is an act of anti-Islamic discrimination. 

“The upholders of radical intolerance can be very satisfied”

Laurent Levy,
father of girls expelled

“This expulsion is a crushing victory for intolerance. We are not in favour of wearing the headscarf in school but Lila and Alma are in absolutely no danger of being fundamentalists,” said Mouloud Aounit, head of the Movement Against Racism (MRAP).

'Islamophobia' spreading

“It is a sign of the Islamophobia that reigns across France," he told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper.

But Remi Duloquin, educational counsellor at the lycee, claimed the girls were “militants”. 

“It is a great pity because their place is in the school. But our role in this kind of lycee is to maintain a balance which their extremism puts in danger,” he said.

The student body at the lycee is made up largely of Muslim immigrants.
  
After a secular upbringing, Lila and Alma began to become interested in Islam two years ago.

They say that to adapt their dress to comply with the authorities' demand would be an infringement of religious rules. 
 
The girls will continue their studies at home. Lila hopes to qualify for university where the ban on headscarves does not apply.
  
France's centre-right government is considering whether to pass a law explicitly banning headscarves from schools.

An inquiry committee into the issue is currently hearing evidence.