France’s Peculiar Same-Sex Marriage Debate

May 28, 2013
On May 18, French president Francois Hollande signed the Marriage for All bill, legalizing same-sex marriage in France. Why should it be surprising? From the American point of view, French are known for their strong secular culture, their praise of sexual freedom, and their commitment to abortion. So no surprise there. But the conditions surrounding the vote were very surprising and unusual in the French secular context. It brought to the streets a strong opposition led by Catholics like Frigid Barjot, the self-proclaimed “press secretary for Jesus.” Opposition was both religious and secular, creating strange alliances of secular leftist and religious conservative figures. Most notably, the main argument against the law drew on natural and social sciences, not on religion.The same-sex marriage debate has divided French society in a way not seen for nearly three decades. The split was reflected in the vote for the law itself that passed by a slim margin (331 to 225). And the vote was the outcome of several months of heated and passionate debate, including demonstrations in major French cities that rallied more than three hundred thousand people at a time. Columnist and right-wing political activist Virginie Merle, better known as Frigide Barjot (a pun on Brigitte Bardot), has emerged as the spokesperson of the opposition. Outspoken and witty, she became a born-again Catholic in 2004 after making a pilgrimage to Lourdes. As early as last fall, she took the lead in coordinating protesters under the umbrella movement La Manif Pour Tous, (Demonstration for All). Since January the group has organized several demonstrations and continues to protest despite passage of the law. In the last stages of the parliamentary debate, the protests even took a radical turn with clashes between the demonstrators and the police. Barjot called “for blood” while Beatrice Bourges, co-leader of La Manif Pour Tous, threatened civil disobedience if the law passed, and called for a French Spring. Other protests continue as well. On May 21, seventy-eight-year-old historian and writer Dominique Venner, known for his extreme-right-wing positions, shot himself on the altar of Notre Dame in front of fifteen hundred visitors after professing his support for ongoing demonstrations on his blog.Even if the majority of protesters come from groups close to the conservative branch of the Catholic Church, what is striking from an American perspective is the ideological and religious diversity of the movement. It includes various political groups and personalities from the entire ideological spectrum, as well as representatives of religions other than Catholicism, and even gay groups in favor of the status quo. The contrast with the United States, where the opponents belong mostly to evangelical or Catholic groups in alliance with the Republican Party, is stark. Even if we limit the comparison between the two countries to religious groups, the difference is striking. The 2012 U.S. presidential elections showed a shift among young Republican voters toward support for same-sex marriage, while the protests against the same-sex marriage in France reveal the emergence of “les catholiques intransigeants” (uncompromising Catholics). They are urban, well educated and lean toward the extreme right. For example, 27 percent of 18-35 years olds who belong to this group voted for the National Front of Marine Le Pen (daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen) in the last presidential election. This is a significant change from the previous generation of Catholic activists who were enthusiast supporters of Vatican II and tended to vote for left-wing parties.

Most interestingly, the protests have mobilized a vast array of political and religious personalities. For this reason, the debate was rarely coined in religious terms (except by a few clerics like Cardinal Vingt-Trois). It was grounded instead on anthropological and sociological arguments about family, social stability and the survival of the human species. In stark opposition with the United States, where scientists and scholars have usually spoken in favor of same-sex marriage using scientific arguments, the same groups in France have used science against same-sex marriage. On March 16, 170 law professors sent an open letter to the French Senate stating their opinion that children adopted by same-sex couples will be deprived of knowing their biological origin. The letter also argued that same-sex marriage legitimizes the commodification of procreation by producing a “market where children can be fabricated and sold like goods”. Psychoanalysts Pierre Levy-Soussan, Jean Pierre Winter, and Christian Flavigny weighed in warning of the negative effects of same-sex families in the psychological development of children, calling such couples a biological experiment. Philosophers and sociologists also joined in, the most prominent being Sylviane Agacenski, the wife of former socialist prime minister, Lionel Jospin. She raised concerns about the survival of the marriage as a fundamental institution for the transmission of social identities based on gender and generations. Philosopher Pierre-Yves Zarka argued that same-sex marriage legitimizes extreme individualism that puts the social cohesion of democratic communities at risk by undermining social cohesion in favor of personal desires and lifestyles.

These biological and sociological arguments against the law reveal an anxiety about the meaning of social identities and the nature of social cohesion that is very specific to French society and goes far beyond the religious condemnation of homosexuality. At the same time, it highlights that French collective values remain unconsciously connected to a traditional vision of society, and that the religious conception of the family has not been completely eroded by centuries of French secularization.

Jocelyne Cesari is senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, and director of Harvard University’s program on Islam in the West.

Mrs. Mamèche, private Muslim High School advisor: ‘We believe in our students’

Zaman France


In light of the approaching nationwide A-Level examination date in France, Fouad Bahri met with Mrs. Mamèche, advisor and archivist to France’s most successful high school. The Averroès high school is one of France’s few private Muslim schools and has a student success rate of 100% in regards to France’s Bac (A-Level). In conversation with Mrs. Mamèche, she reveals the success of her students. She speaks of the careful preparation her students for the Bac, including training session in time management, constant pedagogic guidance, revision classes and extra-curricular internships.

The school’s success is also tied to its integration of parents in the education of their children. They are invited to participate in conferences with scholars and psychologists who provide them insights to educational success for their students. In addition, the students are taught in optional courses on Muslim ethics on how to be a good human, citizen as well as Muslim.

Assaults against mosques

May 22


An assault on Sunday morning against a mosque of the DITIB association “Turkish Islamic Union for the Institution of Religion” in Bullay a town in the State of Rhineland-Palatinate has shocked the Muslim community. The perpetrators had greased the slogan: “the NSU will live forever and you will be the next” on the walls of the mosque. Bekir Alboga, General Secretary of DITIB condemned the attacks as further evidence for violence against foreigners.


The coordination council of Muslims published further assaults targeting mosques in the month of May. Mosques in the cities of Mainz, Lengerich and Düren were attacked and their walls had been greased with anti-Muslim slogans. The police is still investigating the cases. The coordination council expects a correlation between the assaults and the NSU trial. Aiman Mazyek, speaker of the coordination council condemned the assaults and warned State authorities and media not to underestimate the threat of anti-Muslim hatred in Germany.

Salafi bombing attempt in Bonn

May 22


The German Federal Office for Criminal Investigation has found a DNA track belonging to the Salafi Marco G. He has been suspected for planning and executing a bomb attempt at the central station of the city of Bonn in Fall 2012. However the attempt failed. There is little information about the 25 years old Marco G. who comes from Oldenburg, a small city in North Germany. It is said that Marco G. converted to Islam a few years ago and speaks perfectly Arabic.

Woolwich murder sparks anti-Muslim backlash

There has been a large increase in anti-Muslim incidents since the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich, an inter-faith charity has said. Faith Matters, which runs a helpline, said they had received 162 calls since Wednesday’s attack, up from a daily average of six. A number of people have been charged after allegedly offensive comments were made on social media websites. Fiyaz Mughal, director of Faith Matters, said the nature of the incidents ranged from attacks against mosques, graffiti, the pulling off of Muslim women’s headscarves and more general name calling and abuse. He told BBC Radio Five Live: “What’s really concerning is the spread of these incidents. They’re coming in from right across the country. Captain Afzal Amin, a former army officer, warned against associating the actions of the attackers with British Muslims. “Secondly, some of them are quite aggressive very focused, very aggressive attacks. “And thirdly, there also seems to be significant online activity… suggesting co-ordination of incidents and attacks against institutions or places where Muslims congregate.”

Woolwich murder probe: suspect Michael Adebolajo held in Kenya in 2010

One of the suspects in the Woolwich murder case was arrested in Kenya in 2010, the Foreign Office has confirmed. It said Michael Adebolajo was arrested there and it gave consular assistance “as normal” in the circumstances. He was believed to have been preparing to fight with Somali militant group al-Shabab, a Kenyan government spokesman told the BBC, and was later deported. Confirmation of Michael Adebolajo’s arrest in Kenya in 2010 -preparing, according to the Kenyan authorities, to train and fight in Somalia – raises troubling questions. British security officials have had long-standing concerns about the risk of young men travelling to join the militant group, al-Shabab, and returning to pose a danger on the streets of the UK.

Earlier this month, when David Cameron hosted a conference on Somalia he said the challenges of terrorism and extremism “matter to Britain – and to the whole international community.”

So you might have expected Michael Adebolajo to have been firmly on the radar of the security services when he returned to the UK. They will now be under renewed pressure over exactly what they knew about him, and whether more could have been done to prevent the killing of Drummer Lee Rigby.

Islamist insurgent group al-Shabab is affiliated to al-Qaeda and is thought to have 7,000 to 9,000 fighters. It killed 76 people in a double bomb attack in Uganda as they watched the 2010 World Cup.

UK plane alert: Pair charged with endangering aircraft

Two men have been charged with endangering an aircraft after RAF Typhoon jets escorted a passenger plane over the UK. Tayyab Subhani, 30, and Mohammed Safdar, 41, both of Nelson, Lancashire, were detained at Stansted on Friday. Police boarded the Pakistan International Airlines flight, originally en-route to Manchester, after it was diverted to Stansted. The plane, flight PK709, left Lahore – the capital of the Pakistani province of Punjab – at 09:35 local time (05:35 BST) on Friday and had been due to arrive in Manchester at 13:30 BST. One passenger told the BBC the pilot had informed them there had been threats. The airline said there had been 308 passengers on board, as well as 14 crew including pilots, with a mixture of Pakistani and British passport holders.

Nine Arrested in Connection to Woolwich Murder

26 May 2013


A 22 year old man was arrested in north London on Sunday in connection to the brutal murder of Drummer Lee Rigby on Wednesday. Witnesses say that five plainclothes police officers arrested the man while he was riding a bike on St Paul’s Road near Highbury Corner Sunday afternoon. A spokesperson for Scotland Yard said, “A 22-year-old man was arrested by officers from the MPS counter-terrorism command investigating the murder of Lee Rigby. The man was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to murder by detectives supported by specialist firearms officers.”


Sunday’s arrest brings the total number of individuals arrested in connection to the attack, characterized by the Home Secretary as a lone wolf event, to nine. The two suspects, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, were shot and detained by police shortly after the attack on Drummer Rigby and are still in hospital. Three other men, aged 21, 24, and 28, were arrested yesterday in south-east London and Greenwich on suspicion of conspiracy to murder. Another man, aged 29, was arrested and released on bail Saturday evening, and two women were arrested in connection to the attack on Thursday but were released without charges.


The murder of Drummer Rigby has escalated racial and religious tensions in the UK, and police across the country have made a number of arrests for alleged racial and bigoted posts on social media sites. Faith Matters, an interfaith organization, said that approximately 150 racial or religiously motivated incidents have been reported since the attack on Wednesday, up from a daily average of eight incidents prior to the attack. Some of the incidents include violent attacks and vandalizing of mosques and have led to a number of arrests.


UK Home Secretary Plans Renewed Crackdown on Extremists

26 May 2013


UK Home Secretary Theresa May has called for new counter-terror measures to combat extremism in the wake of the Woolwich murder. Though working under the assumption that the Woolwich murder was a lone wolf incident, Mrs. May warned that potentially thousands of people across the UK are at risk of becoming radicalized.


Among the proposals suggested by the Home Secretary was a closer monitoring of radicalization materials available through the internet. A bill currently in parliament, the so called “snoopers’ charter” would expand the government’s ability to use court orders to block sites containing radicalization materials. Said Mrs. May, “There has been discussion of a greater use of court orders to block some sites, but it will be difficult to decide whether responsibility will lie with the Home Office or internet service providers.” Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, has voiced his objections to the scope of the bill and said that he will only allow small measures to be passed. Similarly, Yvette Cooper, the Labour Party shadow home secretary, has agreed in principle that government security apparatuses may need more authority, but that changes should be limited.


The Home Secretary also confirmed that Prevent, the government’s counter-terror strategy, will be reviewed in light of recent events. It is thought that the new review will redirect counter-terror efforts to countering radicalization on university campuses, reversing a trend concerned with protecting free speech. For its part, the Muslim Council of Britain supports granting security services the authority to combat extremism and prevent future acts of violence, but urged the government to consult with Muslim groups to ensure that the new measures don’t prove detrimental to the Muslim community. A statement released by the council read in part, “We must be vigilant and ensure we do not inadvertently give into the demands of all extremists: making our society less free, divided and suspicious of each other.”


Reactions to the Woolwich murder

v23-web-adebowaleTwo men attacked and killed Drummer Lee Rigby, of 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, before they were shot by armed police and taken to hospital where they are still receiving treatment.

The attack in Woolwich, south-east London, has led to a renewed focus on terrorism and Islamist extremism in the UK as well as an increase in tension and attacks on Muslims in Britain. Two men have been charged with separate attacks on mosques, in Kent and Essex, after the death of the soldier. With far-right groups seeking to translate public disgust at the killing into general anti-Muslim and are reacting just as the murderers had hoped they would. There are reports of mosque attacks similar to incidents that occurred after the Tube and bus bombings of 7 July 2005.Vaguely disguised acts of racism quite at odds with the general public mood. The military charity Help for Heroes said since the attack people had been “spontaneously showing support for the armed forces”. The following leading figures and institutions have spoken out about the attack and what it means to the various communities as well as British society as a whole.

The Muslim Council of Britain

This is a truly barbaric act that has no basis in Islam and we condemn this unreservedly. Our thoughts are with the victim and his family. We understand the victim is a serving member of the armed forces. Muslims have long served in this country’s armed forces, proudly and with honour. This attack on a member of the armed forces is dishonourable, and no cause justifies this murder.

This action will no doubt heighten tensions on the streets of the United Kingdom. We call on all our communities, Muslim and non-Muslim, to come together in solidarity to ensure the forces of hatred do not prevail. It is important we allow our police authorities to do their job without speculation. We also urge the utmost vigilance and ask the police authorities to calm tensions.

Julie Siddiqi, Islamic Society of Britain

We need to remain calm and people need to remain vigilant.

We need to make sure we don’t allow extremists to divide the country. We need to remain calm and measured and get the message out there that we will not allow this to divide us.

It was an attack on all of us, on our country, all of us.

It’s very hard for the good people of this country to understand what’s going on. How can you say your religion is a religion of peace and then you have a guy literally with blood on his hands and a knife in his hand doing something completely the opposite?

I don’t think it matters what is happening in another country in any way whatsoever. This should never have happened. There is no justification.

Col Mike Dewar, security and defence analyst

Everyone says it’s a terrorist attack but personally I think it depends on what your definition of terror is. These two appeared to be two individuals, deluded, with extremist ideas, Islamist or not.

The main point is its most unlikely to be a terrorist incident: the formula for that is that it needs to be done by a recognised organisation, the maximum number of people need to be killed and then the terrorists need to escape, to possibly kill other people.

The man killed might have been a soldier or he was certainly sympathetic to soldiers, making him an obvious target. But then the men discussed their reasoning with bystanders: this is nutter territory.

Too early to tell if it’s more than deluded individuals. They may have been groomed but it doesn’t make them terrorists. Just heinous murder.

Jahan Mahmood, a community leader from Birmingham

There needs to be better collaboration between the authorities and the communities.

In many instances the government hasn’t really listened and there is a lot of talk about doing the work that they claim to carry out and the same can go for a number of senior Muslim organisations

These attackers are two isolated individuals who appear to be brainwashed and indoctrinated.

One of them appeared to quote from the bible. An extreme jihadist Muslim would not quote from the bible.

We are sickened by these types of events and we are deeply disturbed by their misguided interpretations of the faith

Keith Vaz MP, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee

We need to look at who carried out this barbaric crime and follow it up swiftly.

People need to stay calm – I think some of the stories that we’ve heard this morning of demonstrations in certain areas… this is not helpful to the police. The police should not be distracted from the very important work that they have to do.

The crucial focus in the next 24 hours is to let Bernard Hogan-Howe [Metropolitan Police commissioner] and his team look and see what happened.

Usama Hasan, a senior researcher at Quilliam, a think tank specialising in counter-extremism

The real problem here is the decisive hatred preached by a very small minority of clerics in this country in a small number of our mosques and universities.

They know who they are and there are Muslim groups and other groups, left-wing groups, may I say, who defend that kind of grievance and victim-hood mentality. That’s what must change and has to stop. A very small number of people but unfortunately their influence is too high.

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London

It is completely wrong to blame this killing on the religion of Islam but it is also equally wrong to try to draw any links between this murder and the foreign policy or the action of British forces who are risking their lives abroad for the sake of freedom.

The fault lies wholly and exclusively in the warped and deluded mind-set of the people who did it.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO Secretary General

I strongly condemn this shocking and barbaric crime. Such attacks can never be justified. Our thoughts at this terrible time are with the victim’s family and friends. We stand in solidarity with the British government and the people of Britain.

Ajmal Masroor, an Imam and broadcaster in London

If it does it’ll be a tragedy because we would have allowed the terrorists and the thugs to win the battle, or the narrative. We don’t want to go down that route.

I would like to call upon every community member listening that there are racist thugs in our country, there are criminals, there are murderers, there are paedophiles – we don’t all become vigilantes and we don’t go around attacking one another.

At this moment in time when things are very difficult we would all make a distinction. These idiots have done this, there is no God in what they’ve done, it is not done in the name of Islam. It is not done for Muslims; it is just their thuggish low-life scum mind-set.

Dr Brooke Roger, senior lecturer in risk and terror at King’s College London

One of the problems in preventing violent radicalisation is the slight disconnect between the role of the security services tasked with monitoring and protecting us and some of the more local authorities and community-based groups.

Local authorities go in with long-term strategies and long-term goals. When something like this occurs we start bringing in the security services who have a long-term role but also have to act in the moment.

We need to make sure these groups are working together and they’re not undoing some of the relationships and trust that’s been built up.

I do think the websites are a significant problem. People can find the information if they want it and I think that is a problem.

We very much need to keep a balance between freedom to access information and understand the nature of individuals and the psychological process that occurs when they see this information.

Jim Murphy MP, shadow defence secretary

This horrendous and horrific act against our armed forces has shocked us all. In our moments of anger we should be strengthened in our national resolve to tackle hatred and terrorism wherever they exist.

The government and security services have our full support in establishing the facts and preventing any future such crimes.

As a country we should respond with a reassertion of the values of tolerance and justice, the values that these extremists hate so much about our country.

We should all help to ensure our armed forces never feel fearful in public. They protect us, and today each of us can send a loud message of support, solidarity and gratitude to all service personnel serving in our towns and cities at home and overseas.


Barack Obama, US President

Barack Obama says his country “stands resolute with the United Kingdom, our ally and friend, against violent extremism and terror”.