Saturday, July 19, 2008

Dateline France: Freedom of Religion vs. Secular Democratic Ideals

I found this to be an interesting story on a variety of levels. Despite what many chest thumping, knuckle dragging, poor people bombing, freedom fry loving Americans might tell you, the French and the U.S. share virtually all the same values. The primary difference is that most of their citizens are aware of their values, and value said values.

But like their American cousins, the French people and their government are far from perfect, and nowhere is this imperfection more obvious then how they deal with the twin issues of religious freedom and the absorption of immigrants. While the United States likes to eat itself when it comes to matters of privacy, education, medical care, respect for others sovereignty, and clean elections, the French continually step over the rights of religious minorities-- which is odd, because it appears to be such a secular society.

Make no mistake, I love secularism, and my entire being existence embodies this principle. However, I hate official policies of forced secularism (except when dealing with issues of government). Thus, in my opinion, there is just something so Stalinist about this story:

When Faiza Silmi applied for French citizenship she was worried that her fluent French was not quite perfect enough or that her Moroccan upbringing would pose a problem.

"I would never have imagined that they would turn me down because of what I choose to wear," Silmi said, her hazel eyes looking out of the narrow slit in her niqab, an Islamic facial veil that is among three flowing layers of turquoise, blue and black that cover her body from head to toe.

But last month, France's highest administrative court upheld a decision to deny Silmi, 32, citizenship on the ground that her "radical" practice of Islam was incompatible with French values like equality of the sexes.

It was the first time that a French court had judged somebody's capacity to be assimilated into France based on private religious practice, taking laïcité - the country's strict concept of secularism - from the public sphere into the home.

The case has sharpened the focus on the delicate balance between the tradition of Republican secularism and the freedom of religion guaranteed under the French Constitution - and how that balance might be shifting. It comes four years after a law banning religious garb in public schools was reinforced. And it comes only weeks after a court in Lille annulled a marriage on request of a Muslim husband whose wife had lied about being a virgin. (for more click here)

I can understand the French wanting to preserve their long established heritage and traditions. Hell, I love the place just the way it is. Also, I can't help but think that they are picking on Muslims...but then again, at least they will be with their American cousins when the War on Terror offically becomes the War on Muslims.


Unconventional Conventionist said...

Sal - multicuturalism in Europe is about just that; MANY cultures.

What the French are rejecting, and the British and the Dutch, is the encroachment of Sharia. So the way I think of it is this; if the Muslims would actually have a period of reform, much like the Christians and the Jews did, whereby THEIR MUSLIM religious culture would accept the multiculturalism that the European people embrace, there would be no problem.

The problem is indeed one of religious dogma, not otherwise cultural. And this is a much more huge issue in Europe than here in the US, since there are 58 million Muslims in the EU.

Kup said...

U.C., Good points. I by no means meant to imply that none of this was on more radical elements in Islam, particularly those who view Sharia as the only acceptable form of practice or life. However, religious moderation and secularism are not entirely antithetical to that religion, and I think that battle for reform is taking place within Islam at this moment in history. For example, see Malaysia or Albania. Furthermore, you are correct that there are many more Muslims living in E.U. member states than the United States. There are also nearly 200,000,000 more people living in these countries than are living in the U.S., although even then, the percentages do not correspond. Both of these numbers will grow dramatically when one looks at the countries that will participate in future expansion of the E.U.

I was just making a point that just as there is such a thing as radical or even orthodox religiosity, there is a parallel phenomenon regarding secularism, and in same cases, it can be just as dangerous. For this, one needs to look no further than Stalin and Hitler.

This decision by the French courts is not even remotely rise to that level, but, at least for me, while it is understandable, it is still infuriating. This will do as much damage to the opinions of the moderates that need us as allies if there is to be reform than it does the intolerant goobers that view Sharia as a life or death necessity.