France Must Bring Secularism and Islam Together

The killing of a priest during morning mass at a Catholic church near Rouen on July 26 has sent new shockwaves through France—a country that prides itself on its secularism, but in which religion still plays a large part in many communities.

The rapid succession of attacks on French soil claimed by Islamic State (IS), from the truck rampage in Nice on Bastille Day to the killing of 84-year-old Jacques Hamel 15 days later, is a worrying sign that IS has intensified its strategy known as the “management of savagery” and that France is a primary target in its fight against the “evil forces”.

Named after the 2004 pamphlet that influenced actions of the Iraq branch of Al Qaeda in 2005-7, “management of savagery” advocates restless violence and continuous massacres in order to scare and exhaust the enemy. It means that IS wages a psychological war as much as a military one. It entails attacking everywhere and at any time in order to destabilize populations across countries. It entails “waves operations”—that never end and maintain high levels of fear among the masses.

This view is based on a binary vision of the world where the merciless and relentless “fighters of god” aim to destroy the “forces of evil”. In this binary vision, the West is not simply a military enemy. It is the incarnation of evil because of its moral, political corruption and its promiscuous and decadent lifestyle that threatens the souls of Muslims everywhere: both those in Western democracies and in Muslim-majority countries ruled by westernized and corrupted leaders.

In this sense, the West is no longer a geopolitical concept but a word used to describe cultures, promiscuous lifestyles and atheism but also Christianity and Judaism that threaten to destroy “pure” Islam everywhere.

Defending secularism

France holds a specific status in this worldview because of its stringent version of secularism or laïcité characterized by a very limited tolerance for religious signs in public spaces. As a result, the trend is to push most Islamic practices, and especially dress code, into the private sphere. At the same time, leniency is maintained for the visibility of some catholic signs and nun’s dresses, often associated with French national culture. This is ironic, given that laïcitéwas first and foremost designed at the time of the separation of church and state in 1905 to crush the infamous power of the Catholic Church.

Discrimination against Islamic religious practices occurs everywhere in Europe, but it is somewhat different in France where there is a more systematic use of the law against Islamic practices. Since the 2004 law banning all religious signs in public schools that was intended to exclude the hijab from the classroom, this has extended to the total prohibition of the niqab(face veil) in public spaces in 2010.

In this context, laïcité is presented by politicians from right to left as the major pillar of French national identity, in need of defence against Islam. Their rhetoric suggests that the problem is not just a particular conservative or political Islamic trend, but Islam itself.

This existential war has been present since the late 1980s with the ongoing controversies on the headscarf and the rise of respected intellectuals and celebrities who have urged their followers to defend France’s universal secularist values against Islam. Most of these figures are on the left side of the political spectrum, such as the acclaimed novelist Michel Houellebecq, or feminists, like journalist and writer Caroline Fourest. Interestingly, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in France has not been part of this anti-Islamic battle, siding instead for respect of Islamic practices.

Reconciliation needed

This existential war between the core values of the West and Islam does, of course, happen elsewhere in Europe, but it is at its peak in France. French Muslims have become internal enemies of the state because they seem to endanger the core value of laïcité. French Muslims are also perceived as external enemies because of the war on terror and the rise of radical Islam. Under these conditions, any expression of Islamic identity or practice, from head covering to dietary rules, is seen as “uncivic” and therefore deemed illegitimate. No doubt that the succession of recent attacks from Nice to Rouen will exacerbate this sentiment.

All Muslims are affected, even when they are not particularly religious. As my research has shown, this has exacerbated a sense of estrangement caused by other ongoing factors including a lack of socio-economic integration or of political representation.

So it is not surprising that for some, including converts, IS provides a powerful narrative that reverts the stigma by making Islam good and the West evil. IS’s fight for the so-called caliphate is also about capturing the hearts and minds of youth in the “lands of savagery” by turning their energy and enthusiasm into lethal weapons against the “armies of evil”.

It is particularly attractive to the most fragile segments of the Muslim youth, especially young men from North African backgrounds who struggle with employment, education and gender relations. In this sense, France has become the major battlefield of inverted perceptions of Islam and the West that reinforce each other: the jihadi perception of the West as the quintessential enemy of Islam and the extreme French secular vision of Islam as the enemy of the West.

The reconciliation of Islam with French laïcité will certainly not defeat IS on the ground, but it may diminish the group’s attraction as a global ideology of resistance for young Muslims. French leaders, both political and religious, need to make sure they focus on this need for reconciliation.

Jocelyne Cesari is professor of religion and politics and director of research at the Edward Cadbury Centre at University of Birmingham.

Turkish Ambassador to Germany wishes an official Ramadan Gala

July 8, 2014

The ambassador of the Republic of Turkey to Germany, Hüseyin Avni Karslioglu, expressed that he would like to see an official Ramadan gala hosted by the Federal Government. Recognizing the many events taking place within Germany’s constituent federal states, Hüseyin Avni Karslioglu referred particularly to the USA and the Obama administration as one positive example he could think of. He stated that such an event would be symbolic for the arrival of Islam in Germany. Thomas De Mazière as well, Federal Minister of the Interior, upheld Iftar for its capacity to overcome boundaries and described it as an event fostering “reconciliation”.

Book Review: ”The Daughters of Allah” by Nedim Gürsel

Allah’s Disempowered Daughters

In 2008, the renowned Turkish author Nedim Gürsel was charged with insulting Islam in his novel The Daughters of Allah. He was later acquitted. The novel has now been translated into German. Stefan Weidner read the book

Upon reading this book, it at last becomes apparent what has always been missing – from the western reader’s perspective – from even the best novels from the Islamic world. Although it has never been possible to exactly put a finger on it, these novels lacked an insight into the fundamental mindset, the spiritual substructure, woven of myths and legends, of the people about whom we are reading.

 

In Solingen, bereaved family of Neonazi victims calls for reconciliation

April 25

 

The surviving members of a Turkish family, attacked almost 20 years ago in their house by a Neonazi group in the Western German city of Solingen, spoke about their pain and desire for reconciliation between Turks and Germans. The declaration was given during an annual meeting with local politicians.

 

On the same day, only 30km’s away of Solingen, the German police had initiated a massive investigative action against a Neonazi circle, searching houses of active criminal Neonazi activists.

 

Honour Killing in Stolzenau, Lower Saxony

08./09./10./11.12.2011

On Monday, a 35-year old man of Yazidi faith, who moved to Germany from Iraq in 2008, shot his 13-year-old daughter following a family mediation session with youth authorities in Stolzenau, Lower Saxony. Souzan B. had moved out of the family home due to family disputes a few months ago and had since been living in a state children’s home, supported by local authorities. Following an attempt at reconciliation between Souzan and her family, which had failed as Souzan refused to move back into the family home, the father had opened fire at her outside the authorities’ office and in front of the rest of the family. Following the incident, the man escaped and is still on the run, hunted by the police.

Closing arguments expected in Irvine 11 case

But at UC Irvine, the case of student protesters who disrupted a speech on campus by the Israeli ambassador last year appears to not have resonated.

In a Santa Ana courtroom Monday, closing arguments will be heard in a case involving Muslim students and the right to free speech. But the so-called Irvine 11 trial, the issues of which are deeply rooted at UC Irvine, has not quite resonated on campus — yet.

The jury’s verdict is what could matter, said David Snow, co-director of the school’s Center for Citizen Peacebuilding, a group that promotes reconciliation. “The hammer hasn’t really fallen yet.”

Teen Convert and Parents Agree to Continue Counseling

Teenager Rifaq Bary who fled the home after converting to Christianity from Islam and her parents have agreed to continue efforts for reconciliation. The Muslim parents and their daughter are to receive counseling service arranged by Franklin County Child Welfare Agency in order to resolve the issue. This agreement was a resumption of an earlier broken deal to continue efforts towards reconciliation.

Converted teenager: reconciliation with family not possible

Despite efforts by courts in Ohio and Florida, Rifqa Bary, a runaway teenager from Ohio says reconciliation with her Muslim family is not possible. Ms. Bary converted from Islam to Christianity and fled home with the alleged assistance of a Christian pastor claiming she would be in danger due to her conversion. Ms. Bary’s attorney argued that the continuing fear of being hurt by her family makes reconciliation impossible.

Anger at Europe’s far right ‘anti-Islam’ conference

A German far right group has stirred Muslim anger worldwide by holding a three-day “Anti-Islamisation Conference” to protest against the construction of mosques and Muslim immigration.

Prominent members of Europe’s far right, including French “Front National” leader Jean-Marie le Pen and Belgian far-right politician Filip Dewinter, have said they will attend the meeting in Cologne which is aimed at forging a European alliance against “Islamisation.” The conference will include a rally in the centre of Cologne tomorrow which police say could lead to clashes with left-wing groups that plan a counter-demonstration. Trade unions, churches and other groups have also announced plans to protest against the conference. The conference organiser is a local protest group called “Pro-Cologne” which campaigned against the city’s recent decision to allow the construction of a large new mosque with two 55-metre tall minarets. Around 330,000 immigrants live in Cologne, about a third of the city’s population. “Mosques are shooting out of the ground like mushrooms, the muezzin call and headscarves are flooding our streets,” Pro-Cologne said on its website. It said 150 “politicians and publicists” from all over Europe and 1,500 other participants will attend the conference at which it plans to launch a petition “against the Islamisation of our cities”. The meeting has drawn fierce criticism from German politicians and city leaders in Cologne. The premier of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Juergen Ruettgers, said: “Those who abuse the cosmopolitan and democratic city of Cologne as a meeting place for right-wing radicals are against tolerance, against reconciliation, against humanity.” David Crossland reports.

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Rapper Salah Edin wants reconciliation

Controversial Moroccan-Dutch rapper Salah Edin recently released a new album titled Nederlands Grootste Nachtmerrie, or Netherland’s greatest nightmare. The 26 year-old artist has aroused the concerns of many, such as the National Reformist Party, which worries his music will sow hatred. Edin’s music is concerned with how he and other young Moroccans experience the Netherlands-it is anything but clogs and roses. His message: this is why young Muslims radicalize.’ Edin’s music is also about the Muslim life in Europe and its complexity. He reads the Koran yet acknowledges that many Muslim youth do not. His music also references the pleasures of a joint and beer that, although no longer part of his life, are experiences of many Muslim youth now. I want to reconcile, not polarize. But I also want men to think.