March 4 2014
An opinion piece by Paris-based journalist Emma-Kate Symons
March 4 2014
An opinion piece by Paris-based journalist Emma-Kate Symons
March 3, 2014
Marine Le Pen, whose party is riding a wave of anti-immigration and anti-Muslim voter sentiment around Europe, says it will cut public funds to religious groups in towns where it wins municipal elections this month.
Le Pen told The Associated Press in an interview that secularism will be strictly applied in towns where her far-right National Front prevails on March 23 and 30, and that referendums will be held on major issues. Le Pen, 45, praised the recent Swiss decision, in a referendum, to cap immigration, saying countries have an “inalienable right” to control their borders.
The National Front reached a high in 2012 when Le Pen scored 18 percent in presidential elections. But the party wants to establish itself in towns around France with the municipal vote. Le Pen, who wants France to abandon the euro currency and leave the European Union, also hopes to boost her party’s strength in European Parliament elections in May. She contends the EU, along with immigration and global financing, are crushing the values of French civilization. Le Pen claimed the Swiss decision, passed by a razor-thin 50.3 percent “yes” vote, would have sailed through France with a 65 percent approval rating if such a referendum held here.
Le Pen has worked to remove the stigma that has kept the party out of mainstream politics by giving it a kinder, more politically correct face. But the National Front has forged ahead with its anti-immigrant stance, especially regarding Muslims. That theme is reflected in other European far-right parties that she hopes will have resonance among voters choosing who runs their daily lives. In towns the National Front might win, Le Pen said that local taxes would be lowered and public funds would be denied to any association with a religious character.
Current law forbids funding religious organizations, but they can receive money if their work also addresses the general interest. In reality, that means many associations would risk losing public funds. A strict application of the principle of secularism could mean removing halal food in school cafeterias, forbidding Muslim women in scarves to accompany children on class trips, and prevent Muslim women from renting public swimming pools after hours. “I’m absolutely not afraid to be called anti-Muslim because I’m not,” Le Pen said.
Le Pen — who calls herself a “patriot” rather than a member of the extreme right — claims that her party neither deals in nor encourages the rising Islamophobia in France. She blames “political-religious groups” who want to install Muslim Sharia law in France and use “massive immigration” to do so. “We don’t have problems with Islam,” she said. But “France has Christian roots. They (the French) want to recognize their own country, recognize their lifestyle, their habits, their traditions.’’
March 1, 2014
The option to wear the headscarf or turban has officially been approved within the practice of football, the FIFA announced on March 1st. At the request of certain Muslim countries, the International Football Association Board (IFAB), which handles legal aspects of football, had agreed to a tentative trial allowing the headscarf on strict conditions two years ago. The headscarf question had become more prominent in recent years, with Iran having gone as far as pressing charges against the FIFA because its female players, prevented from covering their heads, had to forgo the London Olympics in 2012.
The French president of the FIFA, Jerome Valcke, said during a press conference that a trial had been undertaken and ‘a decision has been made: female players can have their heads covered while playing.’ The Board saw no valid reasons to ban it if strict conditions are met. The headscarf must be tightly fitted around the player’s head, be coordinated with the player’s uniform, not be attached to the maillot, must not have any loose parts, and must not constitute a danger to the player nor to others.
However, if the new authorization of head-coverings is valid for the whole world, it does not mean that it will be applied everywhere.
Two years ago, the Federation Francaise du Football (FFF) had banned its players from wearing the headscarf, ‘in order to respect the constitutional precepts of secularism’ in France. The FFF reiterated that the principle of secularism remained valid including in regards to the participation of French selections in international competitions, and upheld the prohibition on all religious signs in the country.
The President of the Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP), Frederic Thiriez, deplored the ruling as a ‘grave mistake.’ ‘I regret the decision of the FIFA which undermines the principal of universality of football in which all players, male and female, are supposed to be subject to the same rules and match conditions. Whereas the Olympic chart bans all religious symbols, this decision goes against women rights and threatens the neutrality of football that is safe from religious and political conflict.’
February 5, 2014
France’s Foreign Ministry has denied media reports that a French international school in Qatar has agreed to teach Islamic sharia law and separate boys and girls into different classrooms.
A recent agreement between the Lycée Voltaire in Doha and French authorities does not involve changes to religion classes or dividing classes by sex, Paris said after reports of the accord sparked outrage in France.
Under French law, state-run schools are barred from providing religious education. However, the state does subsidize private schools, like Doha’s, provided they follow the French state curriculum, do not force religious teaching upon students, and do not discriminate according to religion or sex.
“By signing the accord, the [Doha] school has committed itself to respecting the “Charter of French Teaching Abroad”, which outline the principles of secularism and religious neutrality in education,” the Foreign Ministry said on its website. “The school, which goes from kindergarten to sixth grade, is mixed-sex. All of its classes include both boys and girls, in accordance with the spirit and practices of French education,” it added.
Prominent French news outlets, including the left-leaning weekly Marianne, blasted the country’s international school agency last week for allegedly allowing the Doha school to teach strict Muslim sharia law and place boys and girls in separate classrooms from a certain age.
France’s Foreign Ministry, which helps oversee hundreds of French international schools around the world, said that while religion classes were taught at the Lycée Voltaire, they were part of an after-school program, as is the case in many other international French schools.
Religious education was compulsory for Qatari students at the school, as per Qatari law, but not students of other nationalities, it said.
However, some observers said French officials were not being completely transparent about the situation at the Lycée Voltaire, which boast an enrollment of around 1,000 students, roughly 40% of which are Qatari nationals. Marianne journalist Martine Gozlan said the school’s sixth grade class would not open until next year, and that discussions were ongoing over the question of separating pupils by sex at that level.
“Voltaire come back, Qatar is driving them crazy!” Gazlan wrote in the left-wing magazine, referring to the Enlightenment philosopher famous for his advocacy of secularism and his fierce attacks on religious dogma.
This is not the first time the Doha-based school makes headlines in France. In November 2012, the eviction of the school’s director prompted accusations of repeated interference by Qatari authorities.
February 5, 2014
According to the recently released 2013 report by the National Observatory of Delinquency and Penal Action, France’s Interior Minister Manuel Valls has not brought down crime nor been active on the regulation of religious committees, contrary to popular perception.
Enjoying successful poll ratings, Manuel Valls has been portrayed as the ‘strong man’ of the socialist government. But according to the report on delinquency and public security, the number of burglaries and homicides has increased despite a government plan to counter crime.
In addition to calling for redefining the mission of the judiciary police and integrating new technologies into the police force, the Interior Minister called for a tighter legal measures on internet and social media networks to stop hate messages. ‘The degree of latent hate expressed on social media is of an incompatible intensity with our national ambitions’, said Valls.
Valls is also in charge of maintaining France’s religious bodies, and the 2013 assessment is particularly weak on his management of Islam in France. At the start of his position in 2012, Valls had expressed ambitious plans in this domain. But up to now, nothing new has been implemented: the ‘Islam question’ may have been deemed too risky and hazardous for an Interior Minister who came across as a hardline supporter of secularism.
Valls had initially said he planned to create another national representative body for Muslims, the CFCM (Conseil Francais du Culte Musulman) deemed too close to foreign agendas. Another project was to implement a ‘Foundation of French Islam’ intended for collecting funds transparently for the construction of places of worship. Valls let believe he wanted to reopen this project, but French Muslims have yet to see any steps forwards from the Interior Minister on this central question.
January 16, 2014
Anthropologist of religion and expert at the National Observatory of Secularism, Dounia Bazar addresses the issue of radical Islam in her latest work, ‘Countering Radical Islam’ in which she delivers the fruits of her fifteen years of analyses on this minority phenomena that nonetheless often gets conflated with the entirety of the French Muslim population. In her interview with Zaman, Bouzar emphasizes that radicalism has nothing to do with Islam, but is the result of a psychological process.
Bouzar states that she wrote the book for two audiences: the Islamophobes and the Islamophiles (educators, intellectuals, non-Muslim thinkers of Islam). According to her, they are two sides of the same coin because both groups perceive Muslims as a homogenous entity, whether inferior or simply different, and ultimately they both contribute to the same line of thinking as the extreme right-wing party, the National Front. Bouzar stresses how one needs to distinguish between Islam and its radical forms since maintaining the confusion benefits radicals and Islamophobes alikes.
Bouzar defines radical Islam as a discourse that relies on self-exclusion or the exclusion of others, and leads to a process of identity rupture. It deploys all the psychological tools of cultish movements: breaking with civilization, destruction of personal and family history, the myth of a purified group withholding ‘ultimate truth’, and the replacement of rationality with imitation. Young people under 30 in particular, who have no other form of religious transmission, are prone to being drawn to this kind of discourse on the internet.
Another characteristic of cultish movements is the establishment of indomitable symbolic barriers between members and the ‘evil’ society around them. This leads to an overt religious exhibition, such as the wearing of long beards and the niqab. These displays have nothing to do with testing the State, it is more about self-protection and the preservation of purity in today’s world in decline. It also has nothing to do with Islamism – Islamists have a political agenda while radical puritans have an almost apocalyptical project to save the world.
Bouzar has in fact been a long-time supporter of religious visibility in France, and was one of the first to work on ‘Frenchisization’ of the headscarf. Taking into account that Islam is a culturally adaptable religion, and that the French wish to see a visibly ‘French woman’, Bouzar developed the idea of a scarf that would be esthetically compatible with France’s cultural heritage. She was equally against the move to ban headscarved mothers from participating in school trips, because it is precisely visibility – not hiding one’s Muslim identity due to already feeling at home – that is a sign of true integration.
Those attracted to extreme discourses have the feeling that society doesn’t offer them a place and role to play. Banning veiled mothers from schools sends precisely the message to children that their kind do not have place in society, and that they are in fact ‘banned’ from society.
Bouzar challenges the idea that French Muslims have an inherent sectarian attitude towards the rest of society. She affirms that a problem of social ghettoization exists, but it is not of the ghetto’s own accord. French Muslims in fact believe in the promises of the République, and the role of politicians should be to guarantee them a place in society.
January 27, 2014
In nominating the new board of the Comité Consultatif National d’Ethique (CCNE) or National Advisory Council on Ethics in September 2013, President Francois Hollande chose not to include any religious leaders, and replaced them with secular figures.
This Council, created in 1983, is in charge of providing advisory guidelines on bioethical questions raised by medical, scientific and health research. The CCNE may have an advisory purpose but remains nonetheless influential. Under its influence, the abortion limit went from 10 to 12 weeks in 2000. The Council opposed medically assisted reproduction in 2005, surrogate motherhood in 2010, and assisted suicide by euthanasia in 2013.
The 1983 founding decree states that the interdisciplinary board must be composed of forty members including ‘five belonging to the main philosophical and spiritual families’. Until 2013, two clerics had been chairing: Pastor Louis Schweitzer and Rabbi Michael Azoulay. Islam wasn’t represented by an Imam but by a Muslim thinker, Ali Benmakhlouf. Likewise, Catholicism wasn’t represented by an ecclesial figure but by a professor of theology, Xavier Lacroix. All four have now been replaced with more secular figures.
In theory, Francois Hollande respected the founding decree, which implied that the five religious board members could be secular but not necessarily clerics. However, the President changed a tradition. ‘We want to return to the founding principals of the Council in 1983, and to call on secular figures to represent the religious communities’, said the Elysée.
According to a former president of the CCNE, ‘nominating civilian figures over clerics is a good thing, because they always end up deploying religion in the debates.’ Mohammed Moussaoui, former president of the CFCM (Conseil Francais du Culte Musulman) deplores the eviction of Rabbi Azoulay and the other religious members. To him, it reflects Hollande’s changing vision of state secularism.
28 people, including public officials, religious representatives and imams were awarded on Thursday in Lyon with a university diploma which validates their ‘knowledge on secularism’. The diploma was awarded by France’s Home Minister, Manuel Valls, who intends to expand this course to all religious representatives in the country. The course is financed by the French government and equals 200 hours of lectures on history, legal theory, etc., which are taught in University of Lyon III, the Catholic University of Lyon and the French Institute of Muslim Civilisation in Lyon.
In two separate newspaper articles on Libération and Le Monde, the papers discussed the polemics surrounding the word Islamophobia and the reluctance of certain politicians and organisations in using the term to describe anti-Muslim violence in France. The debate surrounding the roots of the term appears to be crucial to the question of who is comfortable in using the word and who refrains from doing so. For many politicians, including some leading politician in the current government, who reject to use the term, Islamophobia is a concept that misleads by being in allegiance with forces that attempt to undermine democracy and secularism. Many consider the term to be of coinage by the Iranian government, who are accused of using the word in order to forward its radical agenda.
Marwan Mohammed and Abdellali Hajjat, two sociologists who have written a book on the genealogy of Islamophobia in France, have however revealed a completely different story of the term. According to them, French anthropologists used the term Islamophobia in 1910 to describe a way to administer French colonies in East Africa and reappeared in in the 1980s where in the UK where its politically coinage later took place.
Just a year ago, Vincent Peillon, Minister of Education, has launched the idea of teaching “secular morals” beginning in French kindergartens up to high school level. The project was in the meanwhile enthusiastically received by the French public and has been renamed “teaching moral and civic duties”. It’s due to be launched in 2005.
With the beginning of the French school and university terms, the Ministry of Education has presented its “Charter of Secularism”, which is aimed to be exhibited in every educational institution of the country with the exception of private schools. The details of the Charter are so far unclear, but scepticism has arisen amongst religious communities, including France’s Muslim community as to what influence such a charter will have on the right to freely express faith. During the presentation, Peillon made sure to calm his critics by reassuring that “the battle for secularism is not to oppose one another, but a fight against those who want to oppose one another”. In an interview to a regional newspaper days prior to the launch, Peillon stated that “the issue of secularism should not turn into an obsession of Islam” (…) The vast majority of our fellow Muslims are convinced of the benefits of secularism. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but not to challenge education or miss a class . The charter recalls these principles.”