France has been slow to respond to the spread of jihadist ideology because strict state secularism forbids any incursion into individuals’ religious affairs. This has created a breeding ground that has pulled in converts like Guillaume, radicalized while in prison for assaulting a police officer.(Reuters)
Bertrand Dutheil de la Rocher released a press statement discussing Islam in France. He states, “In recent days, discussions are circulating in social networks about Islam in France that involve the Marine Blue Gathering. The law is of a contingent nature. Its extent and its contents are decided according to the common good, variable at different times, by the people, either directly or through their elected representatives.” He reminded the public that “individual liberties are only restricted by necessity…Religious liberty is therefore a right so long as it does not contradict republican law and does not harm others. It’s up to every religion to conform to these conditions of secularism. However, no one can forget that for centuries, the genius of the French nation has expressed itself through Catholicism, notably in its Gallican and Jansenist readings.”
He added that “It’s up to Muslims of France to adapt their religious practices in accepting that, in the public sphere, the contingent law of the Republic is above the law of God, even if they think it is of a transcendent nature.” He stated that every religion’s funding must come from its believers, it cannot come from public money nor from grants from abroad. “To combat secularism is to undermine the social contract and attack citizens who have other metaphysical ideas. The Republic must defend itself against the risk of subversion,” he added. “The fact that there is no clergy in Sunnism risks to encourage its believers huddle in communitarianism,” he said, “ so they do not find themselves isolated in uncertainty and facing their responsibilities, especially when crimes are committed in the name of their faith.”
“With Marine Le Pen, the Marine Blue Gathering wants to assimilate all Frenchmen into the same people beyond their religion and origins. In order for this assimilation to take place, it is necessary to immediately halt all immigration, illegal of course, but also legal. With the country facing mass unemployment, France cannot give newcomers the basics. We must also fight the nation’s denigration by its elites. All Frenchmen must be proud to be French, proud of their French history. The ownership of each person of the national novel is a condition of citizenship. The school must again become a place for the transmission of knowledge,” he concluded.
The former minister of the UMP Nadine Morano has created controversy after posting a picture of a veiled Muslim woman at the beach on her Facebook page. Morano wrote, “There is nothing that threatens public order because the woman’s face was visible in accordance with the law, but it’s an attack on our culture that hurts.” Next to the photograph of the veiled woman, seen from behind, Morano showed the headline of the Figaro Magazine featuring a picture of Brigitte Bardot in a bikini.
Addressing the picture of Bardot, Morano writes: “This image of a Frenchwoman who is proud of her freedom as a woman struck me as a contrast to that of the veiled woman…When choosing to come to France, a state of rights, secular, one must respect our culture and women’s freedom.”
Her comments prompted a statement from the National Observatory Against Islamophobia, which called the post “stigmatizing.” “Is the act of wearing a veil on the beach not respecting the laws of the Republic?” asked Abdallah Zekri, the association’s president. Zekri contended that only the full veil is banned in France.
“It’s always the same one who stands out in the UMP…It would be better for her to deal with what’s happening in her party rather than to stigmatize women who wear the veil,” he added. Zekri is a former UMP member who left the party “after having felt the frequency of hate speech and racism rise.”
On July 28, 2014, journalist Natacha Polony wrote a letter in the Figaro addressed to a “young Muslim compatriot.” The letter was “vague and abstract, and feeds without doubt a traditional fantasy, that of a homogenous and reified Muslim community, stuck between ‘the balance of rights and responsibilities for the old country.””
The article’s writers-Nadia Hemmi-Moulai, Hanane Karimi, and Fatima Khemilat- argue that the figure that Natacha addresses does not exist. “To invent a person is not to have dialogue, to exchange or to interact, it’s to fantasize, to speculate and to make remarks to which the figure can neither respond to nor refute.” There are over five million people in France with Muslim origins, “that would be a lot of people to talk to!”
The writers contend that Polony’s article implies that the Muslim youth should be responsible, under the pretext of a communal Islam, for every atrocity committed by those “on the other side of the planet.” The remarks Polony makes on the Christians persecuted in Iraq, Tariq Ramadan or the Syrian “jihadists,” demonstrates a growing tendency to express “a negative solidarity and a collective responsibility of ‘Arab-Muslims.’”
The three authors point to the similarities between Polony’s description of an “Arab-Muslim” society that is “full of freedom, intelligence and sensuality” and Edward Said’s chronicles, of the East’s “romanticism.” The three authors argue that within this context, French Muslims will then be asked to choose between two beliefs that are presented as contradictory: that of a citizen in the public sphere and a religious believer in the private sphere.
Natacha Polony refers to the “young Muslim compatriot” in the less formal verbal address, “tu” rather than “vous.” “This skewed relaxation is reminiscent of the ‘little negro’ of paternalistic language” the article argues. The authors state that Polony speaks from a position of privilege: college professor and essayist, which promotes the problematic figure of the “Muslim youth.”
“The never-ending episode of the three students refusing to read the text of Genesis, the amalgamation and infantilization of the devotees of Islam…is who she claims to educate. How can she reproach adolescents for a lack of understanding of secularism when a large number of journalists and politicians use it as a tool of discrimination?” they ask.
The article concludes: “If ignorance was a threat to secularism, certain members of the journalistic body would unfortunately be the flag bearers.”
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.
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.
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?”
April 5, 2014
National Front leader Marine Le Pen has said her party will not pander to Jewish and Muslim children by offering non-Pork alternatives for lunch.
School canteens will no longer offer non-pork meal options in the 11 towns the far-right party won in local elections, because such arrangements are contrary to France’s secular values, she said.
“We will not accept any religious demands in school menus,” Le Pen told RTL radio. “There is no reason for religion to enter the public sphere, that’s the law.”
Considering pork is forbidden under Jewish and Muslim dietary law, her comments have sparked a significant backlash.
But she defended the decision saying it was necessary to “save secularism”.
Le Pen launched a fierce row before 2012’s presidential elections when she claimed all meat from slaughter-houses in the Paris region was prepared using Islamic halal traditions and non-Muslim consumers in the capital were being misled.
Her anti-immigrant party made historic gains in last week’s municipal elections, which was seen as a significant electoral breakthrough for the party.
April 4, 2014
Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen said on Friday it would prevent schools from offering special lunches to Muslim pupils in the 11 towns it won in local elections, saying such arrangements were contrary to France’s secular values.
France’s republic has a strict secular tradition enforceable by law, but faith-related demands have risen in recent years, especially from the country’s five-million-strong Muslim minority, the largest in Europe.
“We will not accept any religious demands in school menus,” Le Pen said. “There is no reason for religion to enter the public sphere, that’s the law.”
The anti-immigrant National Front has consistently bemoaned the rising influence of Islam in French public life. France has seen periodic controversies over schools that substitute beef or chicken for pork from menus to cater to Muslim children. Some of the FN’s new mayors have complained there are too many halal shops in their towns.
The party won control of 11 town halls and a large district in the port city of Marseille in municipal elections on Sunday, more than double its record from the 1990s. Le Pen hailed the victory as showing the party had finally established itself as France’s third political force behind ruling Socialists and mainstream conservatives, and predicts a strong showing in May’s European Parliament elections.
March 23, 2014
The report published by the newspaper le Monde on the 10th anniversary of France’s ban on the Muslim veil in public educational institutions in France deserves to be read and meditated to draw the main conclusion on the French model of secularism in facilitating discrimination against Muslims.
The editors of the report confirm that there has been wide compliance with the French law banning the wearing of the hijab by Muslim girls in public schools. However, that result does not mean that the law has addressed or resolved the problems it was intended to address, and in fact it may have created more problems. Indeed, the choices for girls are limited: girls either choose to adhere to their faith and permanently abandon their studies as has happened in some rare cases, or they move to private institutions with all of the related financial burdens, or they study by correspondence, or, finally, they comply with the law by removing the veil, and put it on again at the end of the academic term.
The effects of this law have not been limited to public educational institutions, but have expanded into the whole public space. This broadening of the ban occurred in 2010 with new laws adopted in secular Europe, banning the Muslim veil in public places. It didn’t stop there, however. As a result of actions of both the right and the left in 2013, the request was made to ban the veil in public halls and theaters, and also in private companies. And then things got even more extensive, reaching mothers accompanying their children to school: should or shouldn’t they be allowed to wear their veils?
In 2003, the sociologist Jean Baubérot (the only one to have abstained from voting on the ban on veils in the Stasi Commission that is charged with implementing the secularism system in France) had a long-term vision because he believed that over time, the veil ban would lead to the demonization of this religious symbol and the despising submission of Muslim women… and if the veil were banned in public educational institutions, later inevitably the ban would be adopted elsewhere with further laws enacted. And this is what actually happened. Things began with banning the veil/headscarf in schools, then in public spaces, and now the regulation is becoming widespread everywhere. And who knows, perhaps tomorrow there will be new justifications for imposing the French secular model into the private sphere!
But the truth is that this narrow view of the interpretation of the secularism notion in France, in opposition to the wider and more informed conception “in vogue” in several European nations, has found its starting point in the idea of protecting secularism. But such an approach will inevitably lead to a pernicious form of racism against Muslims, and it will extend to their private space, in violation of the principle of freedom of belief. More serious again, the veil will give rise to a dangerous phobia of Muslims in France, for no other reason than the active presence of people who prefer the safe approach to the application of secularism, without worrying about finding intermediate solutions and/or gateways between respect for individual freedom and the neutrality of the State towards religions.
So what would France have lost if it had bypassed the problem by considering the veil as a sign of cultural belonging and not a religious symbol, such as in the United Kingdom, where the government adopted a more intelligent attitude which harmonized the two great secular principles (public neutrality towards religions and protection of individual freedoms), but did not infringe upon the freedoms of Muslim women?
Great Britain and other European countries have succeeded in using this approach to avoid dangerous endeavors that inevitably lead to the demonization of the Muslim veil and then to the demonization of Muslims in general and, even more generally, the demonization of Islam as a religion. The failure of the French policy is that it arrives at exactly the opposite of secularism, namely racism and incitement to hatred.
Therefore, we believe that 10 years after the implementation of the law on the veil, and the events that have followed after that in France, it is necessary that French secularism not only revises its founding principles, but also its security approaches that have redefined somehow these same principles. The goal now in France should be to pursue a course that takes greater account of the more moderate and open European secular models.