A French highschool trainer who had proven caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad to his class was beheaded on Oct. 16 by an 18-year-old Muslim refugee in what France’s President Emmanuel Macron characterised as an “Islamist terrorist assault.”
The killing is the most recent high-profile assault by a Muslim extremist in France, coming after the 2015 bloodbath at Charlie Hebdo journal and the 2016 truck assault in Good. It additionally occurred two weeks after Macron gave a controversial speech defining Islam as “a faith that’s in disaster immediately everywhere in the world.”
France, which colonized many Muslim-majority territories in Africa and the Levant within the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, reminiscent of Algeria and Mali, has Western Europe’s largest Muslim minority – 6 million folks, or 9% of its inhabitants.
Macron’s Oct. 2 speech outlined a legislative proposal to battle “Islamist separatism.” If handed in Parliament, it might basically ban home-schooling of all kids aged 3 and up and forestall foreign-trained imams from main French mosques. The purpose, mentioned the president, is “to construct an Islam in France that may be suitable with the Enlightenment.”
Macron’s evaluation concludes, merely, that Islam is someway at odds with fashionable Western society. However my analysis on state secularism and faith reveals that the fact is far more sophisticated.
French versus American secularism
French secularism, which is embraced by each the progressive left and the Islamophobic proper, goes nicely past the American democratic idea of separating faith and state. Referred to as “laïcité,” it basically excludes spiritual symbols from public establishments. France has banned Muslim ladies’s headscarves in faculties and outlawed spiritual face coverings in all places. There are not any such bans in the USA.
Whereas each America and France have ongoing debates about “Islamic fundamentalism” and “Muslim terrorists” and views that may be outlined as Islamophobic and have some in style help, American democracy typically supplies higher alternatives for the mixing of assorted spiritual teams.
In France, the Structure defines the state solely as secular, with out delineating the boundaries of that secularism. In the USA, the First Modification restricts the secular state’s engagement with faith, saying the federal government can neither set up a faith nor prohibit a faith’s free train.
It could be troublesome for the U.S. to announce, as Macron did, a state-sponsored undertaking to “forge a sort of Enlightenment Islam.”
Certainly, 11 years earlier than Macron voiced his provocative view, U.S. President Barack Obama gave a well-known speech on Islam in Egypt in 2009, trying to reset the connection between America and the Muslim world.
Emphasizing Muslims’ contributions to American society, Obama mentioned, “It is necessary for Western nations to keep away from impeding Muslim residents from training faith as they see match – as an example, by dictating what garments a Muslim lady ought to put on.”
Obama’s speech mirrored an idealized American melting pot, a spot the place hyphenated identities like Muslim-American are frequent.
French secularism sees no hyphenated identities – solely French or Not French.
Islam and the secular state
Some in France additionally see this inflexible secularism as unequal to the challenges of multiculturalism and migration. The eminent scholar Jean Bauberot, for instance, defends a extra “pluralistic secularism” – one which tolerates sure spiritual symbols in public establishments.
France has the truth is made many exceptions for Catholics. The federal government supplies substantial public funding to non-public Catholic faculties, which educate a couple of quarter of all Okay-12 college students, and 6 of 11 official holidays in France are Catholic holidays.
Too typically, laïcité interprets into an unwillingness to accommodate the religiously primarily based calls for of Muslims.
In 2015, a Muslim advocacy group sued a municipal authority in France’s Burgundy area for refusing to supply a substitute for pork in public college cafeterias. The court docket compelled the city to reverse its coverage, however not as a result of it violated spiritual freedom. The court docket discovered the menu violated the youngsters’s rights.
France’s founding dedication to equality below the legislation likewise forestalls significant social debate on racial discrimination; its census doesn’t even acquire data on race. Though France’s greatest minority is usually composed of nonwhite Muslim immigrants from its former colonies in Africa and their descendents, Macron’s speech referenced solely in passing to French colonialism.
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That mentioned, I discover some reality in Macron’s speech. However the “disaster” dealing with Islam lies within the historic and political failings of the Muslim world, not within the faith itself.
As my 2019 guide, “Islam, Authoritarianism, and Underdevelopment,” paperwork, many Muslim nations like Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabia have long-lasting authoritarian regimes and continual underdevelopment. In 32 of the world’s 49 Muslim-majority nations, blasphemy legal guidelines punish individuals who converse sacrilegiously about sacred issues; in six nations, blasphemy is a capital offense.
These legal guidelines, which block freedom of expression, are extra rooted within the pursuits of the conservative clergy and authoritarian rulers than within the Islamic religion, my analysis reveals. They really contradict a number of Quranic verses that urge Muslims to not coerce or retaliate in opposition to folks of different faiths.
Nonetheless, in Western nations the place Muslims are a minority, extremists often take it upon themselves to punish those that, of their view, mock the Prophet Muhammad. That has brought on international controversies over cartoons and films. At instances, in France and past, it has led to an unacceptable consequence: homicide.
Such killings, whether or not perpetrated by the state or by people, are tragedies. However to border them as a purely spiritual drawback ignores the socioeconomic and political origins of Islamic blasphemy legal guidelines, and the anti-democratic cultural penalties of authoritarianism in lots of Muslim nations.
It additionally overlooks the troublesome actuality that social alienation is an underlying issue within the radicalization of some younger Muslims within the West.
A number of secularisms, a number of Islams
Macron’s speech made some gestures towards better inclusion.
“I need France to change into a rustic the place we are able to educate the ideas of Averreos and Ibn Khaldun,” he mentioned, referencing two eminent Muslim thinkers of the twelfth and 14th centuries, and envisioned “a rustic that excels within the research of Muslim civilizations.”
That plural in “civilizations” is significant. It acknowledges that Islam will not be monolithic. Neither is French secularism. Each are advanced programs with diverse interpretations.
In fact, Macron doesn’t have to “construct an Islam in France that may be suitable with the Enlightenment,” as a result of that already exists. Whether or not French secularism can adapt to Islam is one other query.
This text is republished from The Dialog, a nonprofit information web site devoted to sharing concepts from tutorial consultants. It was written by: Ahmet T. Kuru, San Diego State College.
Ahmet T. Kuru doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or group that will profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their tutorial appointment.