Why don't Republicans like Muslims

France and Islam : When virginity threatens the republic

Hana Jaber is a historian specializing in migration and a research fellow at the Chair for the History of the Contemporary Arab World at the College de France.

The French Republic, one of the pillars of which is the "laicité", has a hard time dealing with religion. President Emmanuel Macron is no exception.

And he now has far-reaching plans to contain one religious community in particular, the Muslims.

While at the beginning of his term of office there was talk of fighting “communitarianism”, the emergence of parallel social worlds, since February 2020 the official discourse has only talked about the fight against “separatism”.

Religious communities should be put on the curb

Given the emotions caused by the beheading of the teacher Samuel Paty on October 16 in Conflans Saint-Honorine and then the terrorist attacks on October 29 in the Notre-Dame Basilica in Nice and for fear of further deepening the fault lines in the French society, it was finally seen as urgent to draft a law "to strengthen republican values". In order to combat so-called separatism, the control of religious practice and religious communities is to be tightened.

The change in terminology is telling. The bill, which was discussed and made public in the Council of Ministers in December to the day on the 115th anniversary of the Law on Secularism of 1905, is decidedly political.

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The executive may claim that it is a “law for freedom”, that it is not directed “against religions and not against Islam”; The fact is that its history, context and content make it a momentous anti-terror law that - without ever naming Muslims or Islam - regulates the life of this section of French society in a particularly legal way.

In some cases, only existing laws are reaffirmed and bundled

In order to “strengthen republican values”, a wide range of topics, ranging from private life to geopolitical, are defined as threats and are therefore regulated by law: virginity, polygamy, forced marriages, inheritance, sports practices, timetables, home tuition, schools without a contract, public spaces , Sermons, mosques, online hate speech, applause for acts of terror, government closures, immediate trials.

This colorful jumble of laws and regulations is intended to combat “atmospheric jihadism”, as the French Islam expert Gilles Kepel calls it. Some of the existing laws are confirmed and recombined in this package.

Regardless of their cultural, geographical and social diversity as well as their respective relationship to religion, Muslims or supposed Muslims are indiscriminately grouped together in an imaginary community.

The message is clear to them: The Republic of France is delighting you with a special package of laws that collectively places you under the particularly watchful eye of Marianne, who symbolizes the Republic.

Laicism itself threatens to become an ideology

Secularity, this French passion for the strict separation of church and state, is discussed controversially. It arouses fears, leads to polemics and misunderstandings. The sociologist Farhad Khosrokhavar already speaks of a “secular ideology”.

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The polarization leads to a strong irritability and increased excitability to be observed among proponents. The ethical and political foundations of the French social contract are being called into question by new actors and social inequalities arising from colonial history and migration.

Sociological studies show that the majority of Muslims in France are integrated and follow the laws of the republic in the same way as their fellow citizens. Nevertheless, an essentialist representation of this population group prevails, fueled by terrorist attacks and political debates in the media.

Again and again individual pictures of people waving the Koran

This vision of a monolithic Islam, in which mad fanatics will immediately execute any wrongdoer who criticizes their prophet, has been spreading in French society since the 1990s. The trigger was the civil war in Algeria, in which Islamist groups and state troops fought each other with great cruelty on both sides.

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Fired on by the terrorist attacks in the USA in September 2001, by the atrocities of the so-called Islamic State, they spread images in the media of angry crowds demonstrating in Bangladesh, Pakistan or Malaysia, waving the Koran and burning western flags.

The boycott of French goods did not take place at all

However, if you look at the political context in these countries, the images of angry crowds are reduced to their true size: Without the approval of the respective regimes, people would never have taken to the streets and are not representative of the actual state of mind in these societies.

It is rather striking that the official reactions of the governments of Muslim countries were in complete agreement with those of the religious authorities: the barbaric acts of the beheading of Samuel Paty and the attack on the Basilica of Notre-Dame in Nice did not prevent the speakers of various Arab countries from doing so to fire veritable tirades against the publication of the cartoons.

But that was quickly over. Just like the alleged boycott of French goods, which was circulated in an endless loop in the official Arab media, on social networks and by the Qatari television channel "Al Jazeera" - it was limited to the cream cheese "La Vache qui rit" from the shelves in the end some supermarkets to remove.

In Muslim countries, religion is mostly in the service of those in power

It is important to underline the complicity between the political regimes and the religious authorities in the Arab countries: not only does it prevent any debate about the secularization of the state, it leads to the formation of its own, official Islam in every country serving the Rulers stand and lack any spiritual and theological dimension.

It is preached in mosques and prevents the believers from approaching this standardized version critically. Societies are intellectually and morally suffocated under a leaden blanket.

The history of Islam, its various schools and its theological wealth remain unknown and inaccessible: the Arab media and social sciences have never addressed this history as an object of research or debate. But Western societies must not allow themselves to be guided by this caricature of Islam and Muslims. Translation from French: Andrea Nüsse

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