Friday, January 22, 2016

France’s much vaunted secularism is not the neutral space it claims to be

"At the start of this year, the school in the little French town of Sargé-lès-le-Mans instituted a “pork or nothing” policy. Muslim and Jewish kids have either to eat pork or go hungry. Apparently this move is necessary to “save secularism”, according to National Front leader Marine le Pen. “We will accept no religious requirements in the school lunch menus,” she said. “There is no reason for religion to enter the public sphere.”....But there is a huge difference between targeting grand bishops in Rome and a beleaguered, economically fragile Muslim community that has received a great many knocks at the hands of the French state and its colonial past. Rabelaisian derision aimed at the House of Saud or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is one thing. But aimed at the disaffected banlieues it is bullying and goading. You have to be suspicious that French secularism is not the neutral thing it purports to be when racists such as Le Pen start defending it so enthusiastically. And yet there is nothing the leaders of al-Qaida want more than the French state to be seen to declare war on its religious citizens once again. They know that many young, disaffected Arab immigrants on the sink estates outside Paris are itching for a fight. The French government must not give it to them. And that means re-thinking their precious laïcité."