Anti-Islamism in “Secular” France and Europe: Analysis
Brigadier (Retd.) Dr. Ahsan ur Rahman Khan
(Image courtesy: cria34.fr https://cria34.fr/actu/2020/04/valeurs-de-la-republique-et-laicite/)
‘Applied’ Secularism in France
When a French teacher in France showed blasphemous caricatures of Prophet Mohammad (SAW), his action caused extreme annoyance of Muslims in France and in the Muslim World whose religious feelings were grievously hurt by this outrageously blasphemous action. As a result, a Muslim immigrant in France killed that teacher. However, government of French President Emmanuel Macron ignored the action of that teacher and immediately ordered a brutal police crackdown on Muslims in France. The pretext presented by Emmanuel Macron for that one–sided brutal police crackdown on Muslims was that French society is based on ‘Laïcisme” i.e. ‘Secularism’ and hence showing of such material, even if considered blasphemous by the followers of any religion, is not punishable and is fair under the principle of ‘freedom of speech and expression’.
Meaning of ‘Laïcisme’ and ‘Laïcité’
As for French President’s claim of mandatory application of Secularism in France’s state affairs, it has to be kept in mind that in that context two French terminologies are in vogue, i.e. ‘Laïcisme’ and ‘Laïcité’.
According to Almaany French English dictionary ‘Laïcisme’ means ‘Secularism’ (1). And, as for ‘Secularism’, Cambridge English dictionary defines ‘Secularism’ as “the belief that religion should not be involved with ordinary social and political activities of a country” (2).
The term ‘Laïcité’ is generally considered difficult to be understood. In that context Michael Kelly, Emeritus Professor of French in Modern Languages and Linguistics at the University of Southampton, has published his article in the international network The Conversation to clarify its meaning. He explained that when in 19th century the French Republic was formed, “The religious differences were settled in 1905, when the church and the state were legally separated. The state was declared neutral with respect to religion, and people were free to believe and practice any religion or none. In French, this became known as laïcité (lay–ness).” (3)
However, a much clearer and actually ‘applied meaning’ of ‘Laïcité’ is available in the more authentic Psalms Code II The Secret of the Lord The Jesus Cycle, published 2010. In its page 77 it clarifies (underlining added for highlighting), “The word laïcité has been used, from the end of the 19th century to mean the freedom of public institutions, especially primary schools, from the influence of the Catholic Church in countries where it had retained its influence, in the context of a secularization process.” (4)
So, in essence the term ‘Laïcité’ is supposed to denote ‘Secularism’. However now in practice of Secularisation process it rather tends to denote hostility towards religion (particularly Islam). That fact about hostility towards religion has also been asserted in the Indian digital news publication Scroll.in. In the opening headline of its article about The Secularism Debate, it highlights (underlining added for highlighting), “Laïcité is usually translated as secularism, although this tends to imply scepticism or hostility rather than neutrality towards religion.” (5) It is this reality which has to be kept in view while analysing the current major unrest in France.
Related Ground Realities and Experts’ Assessments about This Phenomenon
By now the fact is well–known that this anti–religion (anti–Islam in this case) psyche, of President Emmanuel Macron and French ruling elite, is the driving force behind the current brutal police crackdown on Muslims. UK’s The Guardian of 27 October 2020 has also brought to fore that President Macron’s “insistence that publication of caricatures of the prophet Muhammad is fundamental to freedom of speech has spread, with angry international protests, cyber-attacks against French websites and warnings that the president’s response is unwise”. (6)
The immensity and spread of French police crackdown on Muslims (mostly immigrants) in France can be gauged from the 19 October 2020 published report, titled ‘Macron launches anti–Muslim police–state crackdown after terror attack in France’. That report highlights, “After Friday’s terrorist attack that killed middle-school teacher Samuel Paty in Conflans, the administration of Emmanuel Macron is carrying out a police–state crackdown. Hundreds of people have been deported, more than 50 Muslim associations have been targeted for dissolution, dozens of people are being arrested or raided with no connection to the terrorist attack at all ——–“. (7)
And, that police crackdown on Muslim immigrants in France still continues, as also reflected by the media reports. One of those reports of BBC dated 24 November 2020 (titled ‘Paris police in ‘shocking’ clash at migrant camp’) mentioned in its sub–title, “French police violently dismantled a makeshift migrant camp in the heart of Paris overnight, clashing with migrants and activists”. (8)
In this context it is important to note that:-
- Majority of European media (with few exceptions) support Macron government’s anti–Muslim crackdown.
- Current anti–Islam/anti–Muslim brutal action by French government is not just a reaction of last month’s killing of a French teacher; rather intolerance of Islam is ingrained in the psyche of the ruling elite of France.
- Such violent intolerance of Islam, shown by French ruling elite, is most likely to be the future of Europe. That probability was highlighted even as early as February 2020 by US’ prestigious magazine Foreign Policy (founded in 1970 by the famous professor of Harvard University Samuel P Huntington). In that context a detailed article of Foreign Policy (FP) dated 24 February 2020 was titled ‘Emmanuel Macron’s War on Islamism Is Europe’s Future ’.
Most of European media, including French newspaper LIBERATION (FR), Dutch newspaper DE VOLKSKRANT (NL), Czech daily DENIK N (CZ) and Bulgaria’s WEBCAFE (BG), etc. support the current French police action against Muslims in France. Only the Irish daily THE IRISH TIMES (IE) in its article titled, “Masks mandatory yet headscarves forbidden?”, has commented “French political culture places enormous value on what they term ‘laïcisme’, a doctrine which affects total blindness as to the theological and metaphysical beliefs of the citizens of their republic. … Notwithstanding laïcisme, many Muslims believe that French society is not blind to their ethnic origins or religious beliefs. After all, it is hard to believe, in these days of face masks, that the French Republic sought to penalise Muslim women who wore face masks in public or who went bathing in full body attire just a couple of years ago”. (9)
As about the ingrained anti–Islam psyche of the ruling elite of France, the article published on 31 October 2020 by the Indian online newspaper The Print provides the clarity. Its author is Nayanima Basu. She asserts in the heading of her article, “Not just Macron’s politics, it’s France’s brand of secularism that always clashed with Islam”; and in the sub–heading she further clarified, “President Emmanuel Macron’s vow to defend French laicite from ‘Islamist radicalism’ goes beyond the tension highlighted by Prophet cartoon beheading”.
Besides that, to prove the facts that (a) the anti–Islam mindset is actually ingrained in the psyche of French ruling elite, and (b) European institutions also tend to reflect complicity with that mindset, she quotes the cases of Macron’s predecessors Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy. She quotes (italics added for highlighting) that Francois Hollande wrote in his book ‘A President Should Not Say That: Secrets of Five Years in Office’: “It’s true there is a problem with Islam … and nobody doubts that. There’s a problem with Islam because Islam demands places (of worship), recognition. It’s not that Islam is a problem because it’s a religion that is in itself dangerous but because it wants to assert itself as a religion on the Republic. ————”. And that, “Also, in 2011 under former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, a ban was imposed by his conservative government on wearing face–covering veils in public. This was later upheld by the European Court of Human Rights in 2014”. (10)
The Foreign Policy (FP) article dated 24 February 2020, titled ‘Emmanuel Macron’s War on Islamism Is Europe’s Future ’, has dealt in detail about this anti–Islam phenomenon particularly in France and generally in Europe. This article has been authored by Lorenzo G. Vidino who is an Italian–American writer on Islamism in Europe and North America. He holds a law degree from the University of Milan and a Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He is the director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, and a member of the Advisory Board of the Austrian government’s Observatory on Political Islam.
Some of the main points brought forth in this lengthy article by Lorenzo G. Vidino are (italics added for highlighting):-
- “The trigger for France’s heightened concerns about Islamism has unquestionably been terrorism”.
- “Two recent books by Hugo Micheronand Bernard Rougier, which have received huge coverage, have clearly shown that while marginalization, crime, and unemployment were important factors in causing France’s radicalization wave, even more crucial was the separatist environment created by the so-called fréro-salafistes. In substance, they argue, nonviolent Islamists provide a conducive ecosystem that aids the recruitment efforts of jihadi groups—a position, to be sure, that is not universally accepted”.
- “But France’s concerns about Islamism go well beyond terrorism. Critics argue that nonviolent Islamist groups, while largely operating within the boundaries of the law, propagate an interpretation of Islam that drives a wedge between Muslims and non-Muslims, contributing to polarization and harming integration. Europeans are concerned about the growing sway of Islamist groups that seek to push members of local Muslim communities to detach from mainstream society—mostly through preaching but also through various forms of social pressure, intimidation and, occasionally, violence— and resort to alternative legal, educational, and social systems”.
- “That Macron, a staunch foe of populism but, at the same time, a good reader of his nation’s collective psyche, would highlight the negative impact of Islamism on French society is also indicative of a trend that can be observed throughout Europe”.
- “For obvious reasons, terrorist attacks get all the attention from policymakers, security services, and the media. The activities of nonviolent Islamists, on the other hand, tend to be ignored: They are mostly legal, rarely flare up in dramatic incidents, and often bring (sometimes justified, sometimes not) charges of racism and Islamophobia to those who highlight them”.
- “Yet now, throughout Europe, the debate over Islamism is taking place with increasing openness and nuance. A 2018 report by the security services of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, encapsulated these new debates by arguing that “in the long run, the threat posed by legalistic Islamism to the liberal democratic system is greater than that of jihadism … They aspire to an Islamist order, but are prepared to allow certain democratic elements within that framework. For this reason, their extremism is often barely recognizable at first glance”.
- “No European country has adopted an even remotely cohesive approach to challenge Islamism, a task rendered particularly complex by the fact that most activities of nonviolent Islamists fall within the bounds of the law”.
These ground realities and Experts’ assessments clearly show that the otherwise much trumpeted policy of ‘Secularism’, of France and many other European countries, in actual application do not reflect non–interference of State in the religious affairs of their citizen. Rather, the anti–Muslim actions including brutal police crackdown in France, and its support by majority of European media and certain European institutions like European Court of Human Rights, indicate that in reality the state policies in France and many European countries are extremely intolerant in religious affairs of their citizen/residents (particularly Muslims).
The alarming fact is that this anti–Islam/anti–Muslim wave is spreading in many parts of Europe. This phenomenon, viewed in conjunction with the most brutal state–sponsored anti–Muslim terrorism in India and the wide–spread racism and religious extremism in US, certainly indicate the lurking danger of actualisation of Samuel P Huntington’s prediction of ‘Clash of Civilisations’.