French Secularism, Macron and Islam

Ever since Emmanuel Macron has taken a principled stance over the beheading of French teacher and signalled his determination to put an end to ‘Islamic Radicalism’, it has also provided a lifeline to people in India who are the proponents of ‘true secularism’ of French style instead of the Indian version of ‘positive secularism’. There have been people who have even gone to the extent of calling secularism of French style as only solution to the problem of Islam ignoring what secularism can achieve and the history of France since 1950s during which Muslim population of France started increasing. Let’s look at the efficacy of French secularism first which is the talk of the town.

French Secularism is based on the strict separation of religion from the state in the theoretical sense but I’ll show later that theory and practice is not in sync. A strict separation of religion and state means that there are no laws of the French Republic based on religious considerations such as Muslim Personal Law nor it gives special privilege to any religion. As a corollary of this separation, it also says that the government has no authority to determine and influence how a religion functions. People have the freedom to choose their own religion without any restrictions. French government recognizes religious bodies as specified by the law but these religious bodies don’t influence the law making process. Armed with these theoretical premises, French Secularism is nothing but a farce against the threat of Islam.

First, Macron has stated that the law and values of the Republic are supreme and if radical Islam threaten those, he will have to act. He is still considering ‘radicalisation’ as independent of Islam which is due to the baggage carried by French Muslims from their native countries. Macron believes that if he manages to create a French version of Islam as RSS believes creating an Indian version of Islam, the problem of Islam will be solved because his focus is merely on the radicalization aspect. But when Macron goes on to determine who will be the preachers allowed in French mosques or determine the content of Islamic theology to be taught in the schools, he is violating the principle of secularism that the state will have no authority in determining the content of a religion. Moreover, as secularism can’t ban any religion because it goes against the religious liberty and secularism doesn’t know how to evaluate different religious systems by turning a blind eye to their contents, Islam will still be a legitimate religion and no prohibition on Qur’an and Hadith which are the key to the problems. So, the two principles of secularism – religious liberty and state’s non-interference into religious affairs offer no protection against Islam, instead the second principle has to be violated as soon as Macron has to take any step.

To illustrate how inept France has been in dealing with this challenge of Islam, I’ll take an example of Tariq Ramadan. Ramadan is an Islamic theologian, quintessential liberal Muslim and a product of French intelligentsia transported to US intelligentsia by the efforts of New York Times and New York Review of Books. Ramadan is an extremely intelligent fellow who advocates for practicing Islam in the purest form, but he combines it with other causes of liberals such as support for social justice, human rights, socialism and anti-Americanism. Ramadan was given a celebrity status by French press especially LibĂ©ration and shown as someone who had solved the problem of coexistence of Islam with French society because Ramadan was extremely suave in his words and appearance. Lyon was the centre of activities of Ramadan during this period. But do you know about the ancestry of Tariq Ramadan? Tariq Ramadan is the grandson of Hasan Al Banna of Egypt who was the founder of Muslim Brotherhood. His PhD thesis was a glorification of his grandfather and when it was not accepted for being a partisan work, Swiss socialist intellectual Jean Ziegler persuaded University of Geneva to form a second committee to evaluate Ramadan’s thesis in which it was accepted.

I gave the example of Ramadan to illustrate that the primary concern of French society including Macron is the integration of Islam with French society rather than Islam itself and as long as there no treatment for the root cause of the problem, all attempts of deradicalization will fail. As soon as demographic advantage shifts to the Muslim community, French secularism will be a relic of past to be studied in textbooks. Another curious aspect of French Secularism is that French government nominates the Diocesan bishops to be appointed at Vatican in clear violation of secularism. Nikolas Sarkozy has accepted openly that France has Christian roots and the culture is still rooted in Christianity despite all the attempts to remove religion from public sphere. My word of caution is to not go very jubilant over what’s happening in France as the panacea advertised by Macron is inadequate to deal with the problem.

Published by Satish Verma

Read. Contemplate. Write.

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