A French debate on defining the values constituting national identity is sparking controversy amid warnings that the discussions are particularly targeting the Muslim presence. France is home to nearly seven million Muslims, the biggest Muslim minority in Europe. In early November, the French government started a three-month debate on French national identity. Some claim that the debate, championed by President Nicolas Sarkozy, has given new ammunition to the Far Right. Others point to how it has offered a platform for xenophobic views. Sarkozy himself has given a mixed message to the Muslim minority in the country.
“I address my Muslim countrymen to say I will do everything to make them feel they are citizens like any other, enjoying the same rights as all the others to live their faith and practice their religion with the same liberty and dignity,” he said in statement published by Le Monde. “But I also want to tell them that in our country, where Christian civilization has left such a deep trace, where republican values are an integral part of our national identity, everything that could be taken as a challenge to this heritage and its values would condemn to failure the necessary inauguration of a French Islam.”
THE HAGUE – One was a Somali refugee, the other an Argentine investment banker. Both are now high-profile Dutch women challenging this country to rethink its national identity. Princess Maxima, the Argentine-born wife of Crown Prince Willem Alexander, triggered a round of national soul-searching with a speech last month about what exactly it means to be Dutch in an age of mass migration. “The Netherlands is too complex to sum up in one cliche,” she said. “A typical Dutch person doesn’t exist.”
’Representing Islam: Comparative Perspectives’ is an international conference organised jointly by the Universities of Manchester and Surrey and supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council of Britain. It has attracted over 100 eminent national and international speakers.
Representations of ’Islam’ have a profound influence on political cultures and national identities, as well as on attitudes to immigration, security and multiculturalism. The complexity of the notion of ’Islam’ and the heterogeneous responses that it elicits are such that there is no uniform approach to its representation and social construction. The conference addresses this complexity by treating the comparative dimension of recent representations of Islam, encompassing different nations, political institutions, media institutions, and cultures. The conference will be primarily concerned with the press, television, radio, film and the internet. However, it will also include other channels of communication, such as translations, speeches or pamphlets, political discourse, and the visual arts.
Anyone interested in more information should contact the Conference Administrator, Shishir Shahnawaz (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The historian Patrick Weil and 7 other scholars announced that they will resigned from the Cit_ Nationale de l’Histoire de l’Immigration’s board (CNHI – French National Museum of the History of Immigration) as a way to protest against the creation of a ministry of immigration and national identity, recently instaured by France’s new president Nicolas Sarkozy.
Brahms, beer and Beethoven are German, but can a Muslim head scarf be German too? Islamic communities throughout this country are beginning to wonder. What it means to be German is an excruciating riddle, not something casually broached in a cafe. But efforts to sharpen national identity through new citizenship tests have caused a furor over accusations that Muslims are being unfairly targeted for exclusion by questions concerning head scarves, arranged marriages, homosexuality and Israel’s right to exist.