“A threat to secularism,” “unreasonable privileges,” for Muslims…The 14th annual Night of Ramadan organized by the mayor of Paris did not take place without controversy. The event was dedicated to “cultures of Islam,” and included a break-fast dinner and a concert for 450 guests.
The event drew criticism from the opposition party, the Republicans, and the National Front. Madeleine Bazin de Jessey of the Republicans published a scathing op-ed in Le Figaro, referring to the event as taking place in a climate of “flexible secularism” and citing the example of the nativity scene previously displayed by the departmental council of Vendee that was removed in December. In response to the event, Wallerand de Saint-Just of the FN similarly denounced the “communitarianism” he believed to be fostered by such a celebration.
The event has a long history in Paris and has taken place since 2001. In 2009 it was held at the Paris-Bercy stadium, and hosted over 15,000 guests, including several musicians. The FN has denounced the event for years, and while critiques from the Republicans party are more recent, they aren’t new. In 2011 the councilor of Paris Jerome Dubus was offended by what he deemed to be “an attack on secularism.”
The prefecture of Paris also criticized the gathering, believing that it “seemed contrary to the principle of neutrality of public services.” The mayor argued against the accusation, claiming that the celebration was not religious, but cultural. In fact, Hotel de Ville has been used for other faiths’ celebrations. It housed a Hannukah celebration in 2014, and other events such as a ‘Protestant celebration’ in 2013 and ‘850 years of Notre-Dame.’
However the Night of Ramadan is being additionally questioned due to the large amount of funds that are devoted to it. During certain years it has cost up to 10,000 euros, much more than the expenses for the Citizens’ Convention held in Paris, which cost $1954 euros. However, it should be noted that the mayor organizes and supports a number of other events, including the annual ‘Prix de la laicite.’
Among those against the Night of Ramadan, the issue of the nativity scene’s removal from the departmental council of Vendee often arises. However, the two events have little in common: the mayor of Paris organizes a “cultural” celebration, and does not refer to a specific date when hosting the event. The departmental council of Vendee, however, made the choice to install the nativity scene on its premises. The 1905 law separating Church and State prohibits “raising or affixing a religious emblem or sign to public monuments or in any public space.”
The law does not prohibit any public administration from organizing a celebration for the community. It does not appear that anyone has taken legal action to call for the prohibition of the Night of Ramadan.
Opposition for the celebration was primarily from the right. However, a number of political figures from the camp supported the event, notably, Nicolas Sarkozy. On July 7 the leader of the Republicans helped at an iftar at the Grand Mosque of Paris, accompanied by “representatives from France’s principal Islamic federations, including the Union of Islamic Organizations of France (UOIF), although it is not a part of the CFCM,” reported Saphir News.