The Godless or, Racist, French

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In 2004, France adopted the following godless Law #2004-228, which banned the wearing of symbols or garb which show religious affiliation in public primary and secondary schools. The law unabashedly targeted female Muslims, who wear a variety of different types of religious headgear.

The justification behind this was stated by UMP Deputy Jerome Riviere: ” We don’t have a problem with religion in France. We have a problem with the political use (of it) by a minority of religion”.

In other words, the French(70% of the French population favored the ban) felt like the sizable Muslim population(5-10% of the France’s population) within France was threatening their cozy secular world by so rudely wearing religious headgear in public schools.

The Burqa Ban: Imposing Culture by Law

In 2010, France is contemplating the passing of a similar yet much more overt attack on its Muslim population’s religion.

Just this January, the parliamentary leader of France’s ruling UMP party proposed the following law:  “Nobody, in places open to the public or on streets may wear an outfit or an accessory whose effect is to hide the face.”  A potential $1000-plus fine will be given to those who refuse to uncover their face.  This law refers to the burqa, an outfit worn by many Muslim women that covers the whole body and leaves only the eyes exposed for the world to see.

Even the president of France, Nikolas Sarkozy, has said that the the burqa was “not welcome on french soil” because it is not a religious symbol but one of subservience of women. But all of the evidence points to the fact that burqa-clad women do so voluntarily.  Interestingly, according the economist, only 1900 women in all of France wear this full-body burqa and most of them are young. Put a different way,  these women wear the burqa even though their parents did not and still do not. It’s a religious statement,or quite possibly just a fad.

Putting the public school headscarf and public burqa bans together, a sinister side of France’s people leaps out: Racism. Ok, call it what you will, because it may not be solely upon color of skin, but it is certainly overt discrimination against a minority population on account of not subscribing to the cultural norms of France.

Analysis

A contrast is useful; from my experience, someone as American as they come(3rd generation), I have encountered many immigrants in the United States who come from a different country and culture. Some of those immigrants include Muslims, who are, for the most part, assimilated to the American culture. Of course, they are distinctly less “American” culture-wise, as I am, but not by much. This ease of assimilation is due to the fact that there is no monolithic “American” culture. It varies from city to city, state to state, and region to region.

Although I am not an expert on France, I will venture that its culture is much more concrete and homogeneous than that of the United States.  Therein is the problem and the likely reasoning behind the ostentatiously anti-religion laws: an integral tenet of France’s culture, since their revolution, has been secularism. Muslims in France have violated this tenet of French culture by wearing religious clothing in public.

Coerced Assimilation: A Dangerous Proposition

These religious ban laws will likely further the already wide gap in culture between Muslims and and the ethnically(white) French because it will stoke the fires of resentment and its accompanying explosive anger within the hearts of those affected. In essence, the French government is telling people that one of their  immutable characteristic(their faith) is worthless and not welcome in France.

In fact, if one travels back a couple years to the alarming 2005 riots that took place in the suburbs of Paris, the fruits of the division caused by both coerced assimilation(the public school headscarf ban) and the lack of acceptance of foreigners’ by the civil society of France can be glimpsed: the BBC reported then that:

that French society’s negative perceptions of Islam and social discrimination of immigrants had alienated some French Muslims and may have been a factor in the causes of the riots…and that there was a ‘huge well of fury and resentment among the children of North African and African immigrants in the suburbs of French cities’

France: Liberal Hypocrisy

An ideology is an ideology, no matter how many fanciful flourishes you paint upon it.

Indeed, in many Muslim countries, many practice  ideology in the guise of religion: just look at the death-to-the-non-believer laws of religion that exist in places like Pakistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. France, with these anti-religious laws, engages in conduct similar to the latterly mentioned Muslim countries because they have upheld a strict ideology stance based upon a tenet of their culture: Secularism. Memo to the French: Nothing is sacrosanct except for, perhaps, freedom from oppression, which you do with the smothering of Muslims’ rights  in your country.


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18 Responses to “The Godless or, Racist, French”

  1. Hector Najera Says:

    I wonder what role economic stability plays in the proposed law. Certainly the “War on Terror” increased stereotypes of Muslims around the world (as was visible in the United States) in 2004. It speaks, I think, to the interconnectedness of the current world, and the inability to isolate phenomena as accidental occurences. The difficult part for me is not knowing how to counter such attitudes, here or abroad.

    • bjohns15 Says:

      Hey Hector,

      I agree(if I understand you correctly). Whenever there is extra stress exerted upon humans, the better of our virtues(rationality, empathy), are more likely to give way to our drawbacks(hate and irrationality.) Though, it is probably difficult, like you said, because it would require much more research and analysis than simpletons like us bloggers have the time for. And even if the proper legwork is done, there is still the possibility of not reaching a solution.

  2. Christelle Says:

    You seem to be woefully unaware of the situation in France. Have you lived there or even spent any time there? I have as my mother and extended family are French and live there. Therefore, I will clue you in.

    France has a very serious problem with radical Islamists. France like other European nations dabbled in multiculturalism and for many years did not insist on assimilation. They have learned their lesson and this practice is ending.

    Teachers (and Jewish students) have been attacked by Muslims in the classroom for daring to teach about the Holocaust. The ban in the classroom came about as the wearing of the headscarves were being used as a political symbol by fundamentalists. Young women who chose not to wear it were being harrassed by fundamentalist Muslims; I know this is true as one of my cousins teaches and had seen it with her own eyes. There was a lot of chaos in the schools; therefore, the decision was made to ban ALL overt religious garb, including crosses, yarmulke, and the Sikh turban. There was no problem with the other religious denominations, only the Muslims. Yet, in order not to “discriminate,” ALL were penalized–yet it is only Muslims who protested. I would think that those who were penalized when they weren’t the ones causing the problems should have been considered the “victims” and complained the loudest and received the international attention. One would be led to believe that it was only headscarves which were banned in the schools.

    I daresay that no Muslims country would tolerate such behavior/harrassment from non-Muslims in their nations. To compare a ban on headscarves and other religious garb with “death to the unbeliever” is absurd in the extreme. Furthermore, the French have a right to preserve their culture just as Muslims defend their culture in their nations. “Respect” is a door that should swing both ways. There is an expectation by the indigenous people of France that immigrants they have allowed to take up residence in their nation integrate to their culture. And, yes…the “indigenous” people of France are the French.

    France is a fairly diverse nation, especially in the metropolitan areas. People come there from a variety of cultures and have for many years. The South of France in particular has always had a fairly large Arab/North African population as well as Italian, Greek, and other Mediterranean peoples. Paris has also long been a diverse city. There were never any problems until the radicalization of the Muslims there. France as well as other European nations take their human rights laws very seriously and bend over backwards to accommodate people, but when their hospitality began to be abused, some changes were needed to maintain a quality of life for all citizens and residents.

    I would suggest as an interesting topic that you research how minority groups are treated in Muslim nations. You might want to start with the Christian father/daughter in Egypt who are hiding in fear of their lives after converting to Christianity. You might also want to check out the way the Coptic Christians are treated there and the hoops that must be jumped through to build a church (if one is even allowed to be built). It’s a beginning, but start there. One thing will lead to another. You will then have a basis for comparison to the French law on overt displays of religious symbols for all religions in the schools and, hopefully, will grant some perspective.

    • bjohns15 Says:

      Hello Christelle,

      Thanks for reading. I have not been to France. I concede that this entry was written based off about a 2 hours of research on non-french press.

      I am sure you are right that Islamic fundamentalism has created problems in France. But part of the point of this article was to posit the question of why in the United States Muslims appear to assimilate with more ease than in France. My conclusion was that France’s more homogeneous culture hinders Muslims’ ability to assimilate. In other words, from what I have researched,(I could be wrong, no doubt), it appears that the “islamic fundamentalist” problem that France has is due to not, in the first place, accepting Muslims.

      From your response: “There is an expectation by the indigenous people of France that immigrants they have allowed to take up residence in their nation integrate to their culture. And, yes…the “indigenous” people of France are the French.”, I believe backs up my theory. For example, if an immigrant becomes a French citizen, then I would assume they have an absolute right to adhere to whichever culture they please, as long as it does not break a legitimate law. This “you owe us for coming here, immigrants” theory, although not wrong, can be dangerous(see the riots)

      As to your mention of Muslim countries’ practices giving me perspective, thank you, but I am already well aware of what goes on there and I think it is despicable and a representation of human evil unbridled.Here is an older post that discussed the preposterous religious laws in Iran: http://bryanjohnsonblog.com/2009/12/14/brutality/

      Still, I believe you are wrong in using that as part of your argument. Just because other Muslim countries have seriously evil religious laws on their books does not mean that France’s less severe restrictions on religion are any more permissible. Thanks again for reading!

  3. Christelle Says:

    Oh, and one other thing, Bryan: death to one who converts from Islam to another faith, or even merely denouncing Islam for no faith (atheism) is punishable by death. It is not an ideology; it is Sharia Law. What many European nations are attempting to turn back now is the “creeping” Sharia Law which has occurred in the past 20 or so years. There is also much to learn there.

  4. Christelle Says:

    Bryan, thans for the response. Perhaps I did not make myself clear. Way back when, immigrants to France were expected to accept French values and culture, learn the language, etc. Then came the experimentation with multiculturalism. It was also during those decades that immigration to France increased greatly. Later came the radical Islamic political/religious movement. So there were three factors which coincided: massive immigration, lack of assimilation, and radicalization of the Muslim population.

    The lack of assimilation was due to a faulty philosophy that to do so was “cultural chauvanism.” The degree to which immigrants chose to assimilate was more or less left up to them. Most chose not to assimilate and were even encouraged by their religious leaders that it was “unIslamic” to assimilate into an infidel culture.

    That is why I said that this is no longer the case. The French have learned their lesson. There are still a few hard-core holdouts, but I would say that 70% of the population realizes that immigrants must accept French values and culture if peace and stability is to prevail. The French do not feel compelled to allow immigration into their nation; they consider it a privilege which they bestow and there is no birthright citizenship, neither in any European nation. It is virtually impossible to immigrate to Switzerland and become a citizen. I only mention this because many Americans are just unaware and assume immigration is some kind of “right” in every nation. It is not.

    So, in conclusion the French are fairly “live and let live” as far as what immigrants do when they come, as long as their cultural practices do not conflict with established law. There is no repression of religion in France; everyone is free to practice as they see fit. True that it is a secular nation and public displays of religion is not the norm. However, there is NO religious repression. As I explained the headscarf ban was not only for headscarves, but for all outward religious garb. This was to minimize conflicts between the students and to protect the women who choose not to wear the headscarf from being harrassed and even physically assaulted.

    I am pleased to hear that your indignation extends to real true horrors and religious repression in non-European nations. Sometimes there is somewhat a double standard at play in this regard.

  5. bjohns15 Says:

    Yeah, I was aware of the non-birthright citizenship in Europe. I would respond further, but it would open up the argument too much. Your points are well made. Hope to see you back again

  6. Christelle Says:

    Also, Bryan, another point to consider: wearing the headscarf is not mandatory in Islam, and certainly not a chador, abaya, or burka. Many moderate Muslim women do not wear even the headscarf.

    The edict in Islam is for a woman to dress “modestly.” Many young Muslim women in France do not wear the headscarf, but simply dress modestly with long sleeves, long pants, and/or loose-fitting clothing. It is the fundamentalists and extremists who are asserting that it and the abaya/burka is mandatory to fulfill the obligation of modest dress. And that is partially why the ban was instituted: to protect women/families who did not accept the fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic dress. Many of the moderate families do not want the government to cave in to the demands of the harder-line fundamentalists. Many of them left their countries to get away from such situations. See that’s the other side of the story.

    Remember that this ban was instituted only in the public schools. It did not apply after school, or even in religious schools.

  7. bjohns15 Says:

    You don’t mention the newly proposed law to ban the wearing of burqas in public. That law is considerably more restrictive of religion.

  8. Christelle Says:

    My best answer would be to refer to my post above.

    There is no compulsion or edict in Islam which mandates the wearing of headscarves and most definitely not the abaya, chador, or burka. It is the radicals and fundamentalists who have been pushing this interpretation.

    In years past, before this radicalization became widespread, Muslims in France and other places dressed pretty much like anyone else in Western clothing. Even those who wore traditional garb did not make a big deal out of the headscarf and NEVER was the abaya or burka worn! That was strictly a Wahhabist thing and they adhere to the most draconian interpretation of Islam–kind of like Jerry Falwell on steroids.

    I am familiar with all of this because of my French background; we know how things were years ago before this radicalization set in. I have people in my extended family from Turkey; they are secular and they understand what is going on with these fundamentalists and the game they play. They pretend that THEY represent all Muslims, when in fact they only represent the extreme fundamentalist branch. Of course, as radicalism spreads that number increases. But they still do not represent the majority of Muslims.

    The best answer that I can give is that, no, it does not restrict religion. Muslims in France are still free to practice their faith. From what I understand, moderate Muslim clerics were consulted and it was determined that not wearing the full Wahhabi abaya or burka was not a requirement of modesty, nor is the headscarf. The French authorities are more concerned with preventing the creeping Sharia and encouraging the more radical, fundamentalist elements than they are being politically correct. Those who are so fundamentalist that they feel they cannot abide by the ban on the burka will return to their nations of origin. The result will be that those who choose to remain will be those who will best integrate into French society/culture. Again, there is no restriction on religious freedom as wearing the abaya is not really required under Islam.

    • bjohns15 Says:

      Christelle,

      I see your point, but the “burqa” or the “headscarf” ban would not pass muster under U.S. law. If those that want to wear the religious gear believe it is part of their religion, then it is their religion.
      The state infringes upon that by forbidding it.

      What constitutes “religion” is not really the issue.

  9. Rob Says:

    Bryan,
    Do the French have a First Amendment equivalent?

  10. Christelle Says:

    No, the French don’t have the equivalent of what we have here. Here rights are endowed by our “creator,” meaning that they do not come from the State, but are naturally endowed.

    In France as in most European countries of which I am aware, the rights come from the State. The State giveth and the State taketh away. That’s what makes our nation unique.

    On the other hand, there aren’t any Constitutional “rights” to hide behind for those who would use the Constitution to ultimately subvert our nation.

    Extremists in Great Britain brazenly admit that they are using that country’s “rights” against them to achieve their sinister goals.

  11. Christelle Says:

    No, Bryan, I don’t have my own blog. Once in a while if I come across someone else’s and a certain topic piques my interest, I’ll post. But I don’t have the time yet to devote to my own blog.

  12. kodimirpal Says:

    Even in the liberal West, it is an offence for women to go half naked revealing their whole breasts at public places, in educational institutes, at the churches and other places of worship? It is against public decency. There are restrictions on dress even in Europe, is my contention. So it is in Muslim countries. The difference is only in degree.

    Absolute freedom is non-existent in any culture. Being social animals, men and women have animal magnetism and sex appeal. One can never deny the fact that when a young man looking at a woman revealing a major part of her firm, round, shapely and bulging breasts gets sexually excited and would have train of quite often lewd thoughts in his mind.

    And in Islam we say, let men and women dress modestly not revealing more than what is necessary. This helps both to restrict their erotica, their sex urge. The following is a verse from the Muslim Holy Book called the QURAN, Quote,

    “Tell believing men to lower their look and tell believing women to lower their gaze so that they will guard their modesty” this is a shariah law. Is it too much for Europeans to accept this?

    We are not asking for the moon. As the French have fundamental rights, so do others? As it is the fundamental right of a European non-Muslim woman to reveal as much of her beauty as she likes, a Muslim woman has equal fundamental right to cover as much as she wants to cover.

    Why does it bother some? It is simple prejudice and bias and hatred of other people’s culture. Islam is the fastest growing religion in Europe as G.B.Shaw said Islam may be acceptable to the Europe of tomorrow as it is beginning to be acceptable to the Europe of today.

    A big issue is in the world is maintaining family values.75% of the marriages in the US end in divorces. How to make families live more happily and successfully. Please read the book, written by a non-Muslim scholar : Karen Armstrong: Title: Muhammad : A Western Approach to islam

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