A Siren Call for Secularism: How Those who Label France ‘Burqaphobic’ Miss the Point
Since 1905 France’s Roman Catholic Church has been subject to the discipline of French republican secularism, but now as those same constraints are increasingly applied to thrusting Islam, an ‘Islamophobe’ uproar is astir.
Thus begins an article by Éric Conan in Marianne, a leading leftwing weekly, which has launched a Facebook and Change.org campaign – Laïcité, il est temps de se ressaisir ! “Secularism: time to reassert! ” to reinforce the country’s century-old resolve to corral cults (the preferred French term for religions) into the private domain.
It was in 2004 after 15 years of pushing by the Left, that France outlawed religious manifestations of any kind – Kippahs, large Catholic/Orthodox crosses, religious Bandanas, Sikh dastaars, hijabs, niqabs, khimars burqas — in the public space, writes Conan.
>>> Join the Marianne Facebook page dedicated to the “Marianne Appeal – Laïcité : il est temps de se ressaisir !” here.
“And to date — with ups and downs and not a little resistance and even some violence from Catholics back in the 1900s, the ban has worked surprisingly well,” he adds.
Writing just a few days before the widely welcomed decision of the European Court of Human Rights to uphold France’s right to ban the wearing of burqas and other face coverings in the public space (European Court of Human Rights S.A.S v France), Conan says “supporters of secularism, forgetting the struggle in 1905 to impose the concept against a then powerful and even militant Catholic Church, are surprised and alarmed to find that their calls for secularism to be respected and reinvigorated in France are more and more labelled ‘Islamophobic’. “
(According to Dennis McShane in his book Globalising Hatred: The New Anti-Semitism, the term ‘Islamophobe’ was put into circulation by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in April 1998 as a way of silencing criticism of militant Islamists, known as integristes in France and confirmed Islam’s rejection of the core French republican values separating church and state).
In his Marianne report Conan goes on: “These secularists find it difficult to explain that no discrimination is involved, and that to the contrary it is entirely logical that Islam is now the predominant religion targeted in today’s polemics because it has never been subject to and obliged to bend to the century-old constraints that have been applied to Catholicism since the introduction of the 1905 law . “
After a long struggle religious ardour disappeared from the public space (Gen de Gaulle a practicing Catholic reportedly refused to take communion in public so important did he view the need as president to underline the separation of church and state), but it has now reappeared with Islam which has yet to pass through the painful initiation of the principle of secularism that other religions have already absorbed and this leads to any number of conflicts and confusions among the institutions unsure of how to handle the Islamic challenges in the current environment.”
For two centuries after 1789, the anti-Republican enemy was the Catholic Church, and this formed the primary schism that lay at the heart of political life. Now the old conflict of Republicanism versus the Church has been replaced by Republicanism v Islam, and the veil in particular – French sociologist Olivier Roy
Indeed the confusion, tergiversation and hesitation (a trademark of the current hopelessly out of his depth Socialist president and his government) – the ‘political abstention’ as Conan describes it, “merely encourages the militant Islamic integristes whose growing muscle in the community creates a vicious circle leading to further political paralysis.
So much so that recently CFCM the official Muslim advisory body to government set up under the former president Nicolas Sarkozy, has published a benchmark chart of conduct for the Muslim population – the French Muslim citizens convention for living together (les vivre ensemble).
“Dominique Baudis the public ombudsman recently wrote to the prime minister asking for ‘a clarification from the legislator to stem the growing flow of complaints from individuals and companies crossing his desk about the demands of Islamic extremists or integristes, in France…’
“My answer is clearly yes, it is a failure … Of course we must all respect differences, but we do not want a society where communities coexist side by side. Our Muslim compatriots must be able to practise their religion, as any citizen can, but we in France do not want people to pray in an ostentatious way in the street. If you come to France, you accept to melt into a single community, which is the national community, and if you do not want to accept that, you cannot be welcome in France. The French national community cannot accept a change in its lifestyle, equality between men and women and freedom for little girls to go to school.” Former President Nicholas Sarkozy in a nationwide television exchange on TV1 February 10 2011 discussing the failed concept of multiculturalism.
” Indeed, writes Conan: “The political paralysis (over the attack by Islamic integristes on the principles of secularism) is increasingly paradoxical given that the multicultural models supported for decades by several European nations have been declared bankrupt and a failure both by British PM David Cameron and German chancellor Angela Merkel, but that a lack of courage by today’s French leaders has left the field wide open to (Front National leader) Marine le Pen as the only forceful and unashamed defender of the threat to a secularism which a vast majority of the French, government employees, teachers, health providers, and bosses are attached to.”
Marianne says it has launched its manifesto in support of a renewal of Laïcité at a time when “the onward march of a fractured national and religious identity coupled with a growing renouncement of secular principles are endangering the republican ideal”.
The appeal was strengthened by a June 26 appeal by a Collectif des associations laïques (a collective of some 30 secular associations ) urging a more rigorous application of secularism in France.
(See “Pour une meilleure application de la laïcité en France” – rapport du Collectif des associations laïques: “At a time of the rise of the far right and of communautarisme (roughly a tendency to ghettoisation by groups, religions or interests rather than an embracing of one French national identity) this is a period where France has never known so many tensions and claims by groups playing identity politics as today and has therefore never been more in need of secularism. Secularism does not claim to solve all the economic issues of integration, security, housing and health that are part of the social divide. But secularism, consubstantial with the Republic, should enable all citizens, whatever their origins, their colour, their gender, philosophical or religious beliefs, to live together by guaranteeing freedom of conscience and equality of rights. To this end, secularism guarantees everyone the freedom to believe or not to believe, to live according to the precepts of their beliefs if they comply with the founding principles of the Republic and the law. Secularism is a principle of freedom, it separates the Church and the State.”)
Marianne notes that on his campaign trail two years ago President Hollande pledged to make ‘laïcité’ one of the pillars of his “exemplary republic” to the extent of amending the constitution to embrace the principle.
Of course “Hollandisme” which the magazine goes on to describe as “an accumulation of hesitations, betrayal, lack of courage and confusion”, rowed back on the constitutional amendments but worse has not “ceased to send conflicting signals about a commitment to secularism”.
One of the more recent examples of the ‘confusion’ was a report submitted to the previous Socialist PM which called for a greater focus in the national educational curricula on ‘French Arabism’ and, in the name of inclusion (of immigrants) to accept the social mores of the new arrivals and suppress the banning of religious symbols in schools. The new Prime Minister Manuel Valls called this report dangerous and following a public outcry consigned it to the trash bin”.
Here Valls, at the time of this video still the Interior Minister, makes clear that there is only one law in France and that the ban on face coverings is to be respected by one and all:
Marianne goes on to detail myriad examples of what it calls the “cleavages and contradictions on the Left” over the principles of secularism and then praises the dozens of politicians and intellectual figures from all sides of the political spectrum who have so far signed its appeal to strengthen French secularism “at this time of rising community tensions”.
This tweet from Francois Fillon the former conservative French prime minister makes clear his party’s full support for secularism;
His sentiments are echoed by others: Eric Ciotti ✔ @ECiotti
Ancienne Ministre de l’environnement Présidente de CAP21 Députée européenne AvocateCorinne Lepage ✔ @corinnelepage
TV5MONDE MAGH-ORIENT @TV5MONDEORIENT 1h
“As the French sociologist Olivier Roy observes in his book Secularism Confronts Islam, there was a particular focus on the Islamic headscarf, which was seen as causing problems that the Sikh turban and Jewish skullcap did not. This was less to do with the inherent qualities of the headscarf, than the way it became an emblem for the French state, as a kind of anti-Republican symbol. Politicians of all parties lined up to support the ban in 2003, waxing lyrical about how the law would establish the ‘permanence of our values’ and be ‘constitutive of our collective history’, a ‘principle factor of the moral or spiritual unity of our nation’, a ‘founding principle of our republic’ and so on and so on (1). Suppressing the headscarf became the supreme Republican act, the primary way in which law-makers could make a grand statement of principle. Read the rest of this (British) libertarian’s arguments against French secularism here: “France’s attempts to defend the idea of the Republic through an illiberal ban on Islamic headscarves has backfired”.
The Marianne appeal was followed by a triumph for France at the European Court of Human Rights which threw out a claim by an anonymous French citizen that banning the burqa infringed her fundamental human rights.
One critical account of this can be found here: The real battle over the burqa won’t be won in the courts: “France and Belgium’s burqa bans have recently been triumphant in the dock. This week, the European Court of Human Rights threw out the claim from a 24-year-old burqa-wearer that the law banning burqas in France infringed on her fundamental human rights. The week before, France’s highest court upheld the firing of a crèche worker for wearing a veil to work… In these cases, a face-covering is becoming the focus for conflicts between particular immigrant communities and the French state. Indeed, some claim that the burqa-wearing women ‘are looking for confrontation’: the Islamic full-face covering, with the original meaning of women’s marginalisation, perversely takes on the meaning of a challenge to state authority… As the French sociologist Olivier Roy argues in his book Secularism Confronts Islam, the French state’s suppression of the Islamic headscarf became a means of attempting to redefine its identity in uncertain times. It is in opposition to Islamic headwear that the French state and republican identity is defined”.
This result will doubtless give heart to those campaigning for more rigour in separating Church (in this case the religion of Islam given that the other major religions in France have long been bent to the law) and State.
But it will do little to placate those inside and outside France who yell “racism” and ‘Islamophobe’ at every effort to curb the extremist excesses of certain religious groups.
Story: Ken Pottinger