French presidential candidate compares Holocaust to anti-Muslim bias

French Jews accused a left-wing presidential candidate of encouraging Holocaust denial following his comparison of the Nazi persecution of Jews to the situation of French Muslims today. Vincent Peillon, who is running in the Socialist Party primaries ahead of the elections this year, made the analogy Tuesday during an interview aired by the France 2 television channel. Peillon, a former education minister who has Jewish origins, was commenting on a question about France’s strict separation between state and religion, referred to in France as “laicite.” “If some want to use laicite, as has been done in the past, against certain populations … Forty years ago it was the Jews who put on yellow stars. Today, some of our Muslim countrymen are often portrayed as radical Islamists. It is intolerable.” In a statement Wednesday, CRIF, the umbrella group of French Jewish communities, accused Peillon of making “statements that only serve those trying to rewrite history.”

Peillon neither retracted his remark nor apologized in a statement published Wednesday on his website, but said he would wanted to elaborate on what he meant in light of the controversy it provoked and to “refine my view, which may have been misrepresented because of brevity.” Peillon wrote that he “clearly did not want to say that laicite was the origin of anti-Semitism of Vichy France,” which was the part of the country run by a pro-Nazi collaborationist government. He also wrote that “what the Jews experienced under Vichy should not be banalized in any way” and that he was committed to fighting racism and anti-Semitism. “I wanted to denounce the strategy of the far right, which always used the words of the French Republic or social issues to turn them against the population. It is doing so today with laicite against the Muslims,” Peillon wrote.

But in its statement condemning Peillon’s remark, CRIF wrote that the history concerning the deportation of more than 75,000 Jews from France to concentration camps and death and the looting of their property, “as well as discriminatory laws such as the one about wearing yellow stars, should not be instrumentalized to create a false equivalence of suffering.” CRIF “demands a clarification and immediate correction on the part of Vincent Peillon,” it said. Peillon, a lawmaker in the European Parliament, announced his candidacy in December to succeed President Francois Hollande as party leader and run as its candidate in April. He was appointed education minister in 2012 and served for two years. In the Socialist primaries, Peillon will face Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who has strong support in the Jewish community. Peillon’s mother, Françoise Blum, is Jewish. Peillon, who rarely talks about his Jewish roots publicly, signed a petition by the left-wing Jcall group, the European counterpart to J Street, supporting Palestinian statehood. In 2009, he celebrated the bar mitzvah of his son Elie at a Paris synagogue. He has another son, Isaac. Peillon is married to Nathalie Bensahel, a journalist who has written about about France’s anti-Semitism problem.

Baby Loup: The Court of Appeals Confirms the Dismissal of the Veiled Employee

June 25, 2014

Fatima Afif, the Muslim employee who wore a headscarf to the Baby Loup crèche in Chanteloup-les-Vignes, has lost her fight in the French courts. On Wednesday, June 25 the court delivered an official and final ruling on the case, which has been an ongoing legal battle for four years. According to Le Monde the dismissal was “indeed well justified.”

The court ruled that according to labor law, a private enterprise, or an association as in the case of the Baby Loup crèche, can “limit an employee’s freedom to display religious beliefs,” in certain justifiable cases. Baby Loup had its own set of internal rules, which state, “The principle of the freedom of conscience and of religion of each of its personnel cannot interfere with the principle of secularism and of neutrality that applies to the performance of its activities.”

Afif’s lawyer argued that “the Court of Appeals did not solve the question of Islam through the veil in France, it solved the problem of the Baby Loup crèche.” In contrast, Baby Loup’s lawyer Patrice Spinosi stated that the outcome represented “a big decision” that will have lasting effects on other organizations.

Proposal of June 18, 2014: Yes to secularism, no to discrimination

June 18, 2014

On June 18, 2014 representatives of several French associations published a petition advocating: “Yes to secularism, no to discrimination.” Among the signatories are sociologists Jean Baubérot, Christine Delohy and Saïd Bouamama, along with Hervé Bramy, Patrick Braouezek and journalist Rokhaya Diallo, among others.

The petition begins: “We veiled women banned from school field trips, but also parents of schoolchildren, women, union members, activists, female and male politicians, intellectuals, citizens, launch an appeal for respect for secularism and the end to discriminatory treatments.”

At a time when France is making international headlines after the recent European Parliament Elections witnessed the rise of far-right parties, the petition claims that France has transformed from a country that stands for “human rights” into one that “rejects foreigners, ‘others,’ and all those who do not conform to the predominant norm (white, male, Christian, rich).” The call for equal rights aims to create a “desire to be unified regardless of difference.”

Currently, veiled mothers are not allowed to chaperon their children on field trips, but have the right to vote in school committee elections and to be members of these committees. “We can’t find coherent arguments to explain this to our children,” states the petition, “At their age what would they think of the mistreatment that their mother is subjected to on the part of educational institutions?”

The appeal points to the increasing discrimination that Muslim women face when they accompany their children to school. Yet the petition does not seek to dismantle secularism, rather to ensure that secularism is “finally respected and fairly applied.”

“We, signatories of this appeal, request the repeal of the Chatel memorandum, that which is sexist and Islamophobic, as well as all the discriminatory laws and memorandums that preceded it. Islamophobia, discrimination, sexism, injustice, inequality, stigmatization: That’s enough.”

The signatories invite those who support secularism and equality to put an end to discrimination, which “promotes the rise of extremism that pits populations against one another.” They requested a meeting on June 18 before the Ministry of Education to call for an end to the Chatel memorandum.

Baby Loup’s return to the court of appeals: towards what secularism?

June 16, 2014

On June 16 the Court of Appeals, comprised of eighteen judges, reconvened to discuss the 2008 dismissal of Fatima Afif, an employee at the Baby Loup crèche in Chanteloup-les-Vignes. The court’s decision is previewed for the end of the month. The retrial comes at a time of heightened religious tensions linked to the growing fear of radical Islam. The case’s decision could “redefine the conditions of secularism’s application” in France.

Attorney General Jean-Claude Marin has pushed to abandon the crèche’s controversial decision to prosecute Madam Afif, but to uphold her dismissal for gross misconduct. The case’s senior judge justifies her dismissal on the grounds that she “remained in the space after her legal suspension and exhibited aggressive behavior.”

Madame Afif’s Lawyer Claire Waquet stated that the employee was a victim of “religious discrimination,” and had previously won the Supreme Court’s support, which had effectively annulled Afif’s dismissal. The Supreme Court’s decision evoked the emotion of many politicians and intellectuals and led to the Court of Appeal’s decision to reestablish her dismissal in November 2013. “That her employers had wanted to fire her isn’t the problem, it’s how they fired her that shocks me. One doesn’t fire someone for misconduct and even less so for gross misconduct, without warning and without compensatory damages, someone who exercises their freedom of belief.”

The Baby Loup affair has caused “the secularists to mobilize.” Jeannette Bougrab, president of HALDE, a government association that advocates for equality and an end to discrimination, also showed her support for the crèche against the advice of her institution. Maneul Valls, a member of the National Assembly, called the conflict a “challenge to secularism.”

In September 2013 Francois Hollande spoke of a potential law pertaining to “private enterprises that assures a mission of childcare.” The president charged the “Observatoire de la laïcité,” a government organization tasked with monitoring secularism’s application, with proposing the law. The commission dismissed the option of a new law pertaining to secularism’s application but made actionable recommendations to the crèche. Supporters of the crèche were disappointed with the commission’s decision and many wonder if the judges will be swayed by public opinion. A recent BVA survey states that 80% are in favor of new legislation.

The affair’s long spectacle in the public eye has taken its toll on the citizens of Chanteloup-les-Vignes. Baby Loup has been replaced by another crèche, and citizens complain that the city has received negative publicity in recent years. According to the Nouvel Observateur the crèche has reopened in a nearby town and Fatima Afif has returned to her city after seeking refuge in Morocco. Current deliberations center on the question: “The history of French secularism continues to be written. But in what sense?”

Marine Le Pen Claims that “Positive” Laïcité has Benefited Islam

National Front vice-president Marine Le Pen has offered her reflections on what President Nicholas Sarkozy has termed “positive secularism.” On the occasion of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to France, Le Pen noted, “I have battled against positive secularism, but for reasons other than those I have seen in the newspapers in the last few days.” Le Pen adds that Sarkozy has sought to place Islam on equal footing with Islam, but that “Islam is not on par for historic reasons, it has been given a lot of attention because of the massive immigration to France in the last 30 years.” Le Pen believes that this interpretation of secularism works to bolster Islam in France to the detriment of others.

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Secularism confronts Islam

The author has already written elsewhere about the failure of political Islam because of the non-compatibility of the Islamic imaginary with the structure of the modern state. A political agenda based on Revelation will be bound to coercively suit society to law rather than the other way around.

Olivier Roy, France’s leading philosopher-political scientist, disagrees with the way France is handling its ‘Muslim problem’ and warns it against what it calls Islamophobia, a collective sickness that will harm the country. He invites France to revisit its resistance to affording public space to religion and to differentiate between Islamic neo-fundamentalism, which is observance without demanding a separate state, and which is what the French Muslims want, and Islamism which assumes an Islamic state, and is plaguing the Islamic world. The expatriate Muslim in the West has integrated into the host culture less and less over the years. Two approaches to expatriate workers — assimilationism and multiculturalism — have failed. Assimilation insists that the expatriate person accept the local culture in public places to become a full-fledged citizen. Multiculturalism believes that Islam is a deep-seated culture too and will not fade away as new generations come and go. One approach opposes separation; the other allows separation to achieve integration. Both approaches have failed. Assimilationist France doesn’t allow the wearing of veil to Muslim girls in public places, and has caused protest. Multiculturalist UK, Belgium and Germany are poised to also follow France and restrict the wearing of the Muslim veil because allowing Muslim citizens to remain separate has not led to integration. Roy seeks resolution within the matrix of Western values and observance of human rights and thinks that remedies sought officially now are all wrong. He differentiates between the secularism of the UK where religion is kept out of public life through a culture of values and a way of life, and the laïcité of France where religion has been expelled from public places through a legalism agreed to by the Catholic Church. Yet he notes a lot of defence of Christian values in secular Europe through a damning interpretation of Islam. Writers like Oriana Fallaci not only condemn Islam for being against the culture of the West but claim that the Muslims are incapable of integrating because of their faith. Khaled Ahmed reports.

Daily Times review available here. (Some news sites may require registration)

Nicolas Sarkozy Defends the Notion of “Positive French Secularism”

French president Nicolas Sarkozy recently defended the notion of “positive secularism” which allows place for religion in the public sphere. While Sarkozy has not introduced any real reform, making the statement in speeches in Rome in December 2007 and in Riyad in January 2008, the suggestion has created fierce debate. In the past Sarkozy has read the 1905 law separating Church and State broadly, notably in allowing the new construction of religious spaces for Muslims and in the controversial creation of the CFCM (French Council of the Muslim Faith) in 2003.

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City of Gonesse Proposes Charter to Help Balance Secularism and Religious Freedom

Mayors across France struggle to respect French laicite and satisfy the freedoms of fellow-countrymen of different confessions, without being accused of pandering for votes. John Rock Blazy, mayor of Gonesse, has proposed the creation of a Committee of Ethics devoted solely to these questions of religion and secularism.