Top-down French secularism threat for multiculturalism

By Faruk Arslan

01/12/2010 SUSA Newsletter, York University, Issue 1

Maybe you’ve heard in the news that the majority of French citizens and the French government supported a new law initiative in the French parliament which the full veil banned in the public realm not just institutions, also on streets, buses, etc. This is expanded hatred against Muslim in European – especially in Germany, Holland and Swiss countries where they are questioning of multiculturalism again whether it is fraud or true. How would we situate ourselves towards this French secularism issue? I will argue on the new French law is the secularization of dichotomy leads to trigger racist images with “deculturalization”, “de-territorialization” and “uprootedness.” This is because the “American-style communitarianism” or multiculturalism is a threat to the model of French citizenship, and that is why the French politicians use the headscarf as a “conspicuous religious sign” that deconstructs their race and ethnicity, and exercises their power opposition between freedom and belonging.

The French parliament had many debates and passed a nonbinding resolution suggested in the 644 page report calling for a ban on the full facial veils anywhere in the public realm. Within the policy of the separation of religion and state, this French top-down secularism has more likely produced a racist environment among the majority of French citizens- including Quebec and Canadian citizens- who understand that wearing ethno-religious symbols like the Hijab is a sign that threatens their national identity, and this idea is confusing the belonging and freedom values in both private and public spheres.

Racist ideas have been triggered by right-wing political mobilizations in France since the 1990s, and they have shifted from being openly xenophobic and belonging to a white superiority approach to becoming an “incompatibility of cultures” argument in the mainstream political life in the 2000s. The Stasi report was a big step of deculturalization that went without mentioning that it was enhanced with 9/11 references that contained the prohibition of the wearing of the Hijab. It is described as a “political sign” and describes Islam as a “political religion” against modernity, and this report made legal and political boundaries among ethnic French and religious groups within France in 2003.

The French government has already banned and enforced to remove headscarves and other signs of religious affiliation since 2004 from public schools, passport photos, airline securities and banks which symbolizes France’s tradition of strict secularism amid fears of growing fundamentalism among France’s five million Muslims. Since the beginning of 2010, it is sad to see that a broad French alliance from across the country has come together to discuss and extend racist, discriminatory and oppressive law preparation. In fact, the people of Islam among the French population are a minority of a religious group and have no political domination or influence on the majority of the population to go with the Hijab or go without it. Covering full face or halfway does not indicate whether a person is a bad or good type of Muslim, but it is their understanding of duty to belong to a community and religion that is not against the creation of national identity or competing citizenship, though the difference in veils may only be increasing the visibility of the diversity in modernity.

The French believe that the freedom associated with modern citizenship is inescapable and that diversity is only acceptable because it is inevitable, and because it is something to be tolerated rather than embraced so that it won’t turn into fanaticism, oppression and social exclusion. The French national identity contains strong laicism that is mandatory, which places effect on the de-territorialization of existing cultures, such as Islam and Muslims. This model is rooted to colonialism that looms large in the Islamic discourse of the deconstruction of Muslim cultures, religions and politics over the centuries. According to the French feminists and secularists’ point of view, Islam is a male-dominated culture where men control and oppress women with the Hijab in the domestic sphere, this would present “gender oppression” in the public sphere, yet there is a dispute on this issue as a majority of Muslim women disagree with this idea and where feminists say that these women must be a “silent majority”

As matter of fact, for most of women, the Muslim veil, or Hijab, represents simply a personal expression of faith based on the order of God according to the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, and it is not the main pillar of Islam but is a part of it as being irreplaceable, and only the wearing style and colour can change and vary from culture to culture, whereas it is not a symbol of neo-fanatic, traditional or mainstream beliefs nor is it a political sign.

Famous writer, Oliver Roy, claimed that it is not only Islam but also Christianity and Hinduism that are returning to their pure religions in the global world, and laicite and multiculturalism assume that the existence of Islamic communities is a contribution to their national identity’s formation. Images of uprootedness have been increasing since the deculturalization of religion, in which leads to the purification of privatization and individualization of religion in the public sphere, but nobody is concerned about ethnicity, poverty, othering, xenophobia or global politics over small, victimized populations. The Hijab is linked to Islam, and the French interpret the Muslims incorrectly, and it is as if they are saying to them that “If you do not think like us, you do not belong to us”. France is not debating why their Jacobean laicism is building invisible walls in society, and the French are not willing to accept a law against Islamophobia, like the laws against anti-Semitism that prevent discrimination against Muslims and reduce racist anti-Islamic propaganda.

In conclusion, the majority of the French population denies the force of communitarian sentiment when perceive the difference as a threat and failure to the reconciliation of the freedom of conscience with the demands of the neutrality of the public sphere. There shouldn’t be a distinction between freedom and belonging which have become more apparent and interconnected since the start of globalization. “The scarf is something between women and Allah that connect to culture,” religion and history before feminist claims were constructed. The majority of French secularists and feminists have a lack of understanding other religious beliefs and practices, having allowed segregation and ghettoizing to continue to elaborate the melting pot of general individual citizenship. The discriminatory law initiative symbolizes cultural and political hegemony, where superiority beliefs are against marginalized foreigners’ cultures and religious practices, and in this case, they disrespect multiculturalism and communitarian values and destroy civic unity and the sense of belonging to France and violate the universal and even basic human rights of women, and they started new structured secular-hatred fascism and religious bias racism to Others will be threatening and  collapsing the meaning of multiculturalism\ living in a peace co-existence and learning peace in the earth school of  diversity.