Saturday, 23 March 2013

'French secularism' is a euphemism for populist xenophobia at best, and racism at worst

Autre temps, autres moeurs ?
I posted an entry a few days ago which praised a French judge's decision to render illegal the sacking of a female creche employee because she wore a Muslim-style headscarf to work. The decision upheld the reasonable principle of French secular law (laïcité) which, although it bans religious insignia in state institutions (schools, hospital, administrative facilities), does not apply to private companies and organisations - and the creche was and still is a private association. That entry ended with the words:

"France is a country in which the state already pokes its nose into people's lives far more than is the case compared to what happens in other Western countries, but if private organisations in France were ever forced to bow to state-inspired ideology it would only be a matter of time before this ideology were imposed upon citizens in their own homes."
That blog entry expressed my view that the judgement would serve as a warning to extremist secular zealots that people's private lives are not the state's business, but it was not to be. Floods of protest followed the judge's ruling, with politicians from all parties, from the extreme left to the extreme right, leading the charge.

No sooner had the decision been announced,
Interior minister Manuel Valls took the stand in parliament to say "how much I regret the court's decision". His thoughts were echoed by other socialists, including the President of the Socialist Party's parliamentary group, and député Jérôme Guedj, who said that "court decisions must be respected, but maybe that means that we should consider the question of adapting our legislation to all situations, and preserve and sanctuarise laïcité". His words were echoed by other socialists. The opposition UMP party agreed, and UMP député Eric Ciotti announced that he would shortly be submitting a law proposal to parliament "in order to permit the necessary respect of neutrality and laïcité in private companies". Next, extreme right wing party the Front National agreed, with Vice-president Florian Philippot denouncing what he said was a "highly dangerous" decision, and extreme left wing parties followed the same reasoning.

All those words were spoken within a few hours of the court's decision, but since then there have been many other calls for strict laïcité laws to be applied to the private sector, via legislative means. The government, smelling the coffee, has already leaked the news that it intends to change the law.

The press has also been largely critical of the judge's decision to uphold individual freedoms, with this piece being an example.

But what does the average Frenchman or woman think of all this? We haven't had to wait long to find out. Poll results issued today show that a crushing majority of citizens - 84% - would like to see Muslim headscarves banned in any workplace to which the public may have access. This includes shops, restaurants, business consultancies, insurance and other related companies, and many more.

This has frightening implications. There are many thousands of Muslim-run businesses in France, and many of them are wholly or partially staffed by people who wear a Muslim headscarf. Are they to be banned from doing so? And what about mosques, which are also public places? Shall non-muslim visitors be authorised by law to visit them without head coverings and shall Muslim clerics be obliged not only to accept these visitors but also to forego their own religious insignia? There are hundreds of thousands of Muslims, maybe many more, who go to work each day wearing religious insignia, and if the law is changed shall they no longer be able to?

You will have noticed that what is being objected to here is not religious insignia in general, but Muslim insignia only. And this is another cause for serious worry.

It has been well documented that racism in general in France is rising, with an increase in racist incidents of 23% in 2012. That is bad enough in itself but if you scratch at the surface of the figures the real target of the average Frenchman is the Muslim community. This is borne out by the fact that 74% of French citizens consider Islam to be an "intolerant" religion which is incompatible with French values. Also, only a minority considers that "integrists" represent only a tiny minority of Muslims, and a majority would even like to see the Muslim headscarf banned in public.

So it's no wonder that the French government feels that it will not encounter much opposition to its plans to extend laïcité to the private sector. After all, it has the solid backing of the opposition, the press, and the public for stricter laws.

The sad and disturbing fact is that French society is running headlong towards the rejection of foreigners in general, and those of Muslim origin in particular.

'La France, le pays des droits de l'homme'? Mon cul. The France of today may be all for human rights, but only if you are of white French origin. And don't even think of getting me started on the laughable notion of 'liberté, égalité, fraternité'.


  1. What a mess this all is. France is getting less and less tolerant. Again, it is a question of education. Having not lived there in years, I really don't know what else to add except that it is very sad.

    1. Hi Nadege, from a dismal cloudy Lyon. And talking of education and France, I read an article in the Guardian this morning (URL below) which says that France is depressed because it starts during people's childhoods. Dunno how much I agree with it but I thought it would interest you.

  2. I just read the article. I agree as very often when I meet french people, I find them negative and always criticizing others. Maybe they have been in that state of mind for too long, have had too much and some of the best for too long they took it all for granted. Things changed and evolved, but they haven't. Maybe they have become lazy and have now settled for mediocrity. That is why so many young entrepreneurs are leaving the country. Veronique might not agree with me but the last time I was in France, it seems to me that people had such "idees de grandeur" but it was old fashion, claustrophobic, they were stuck in the past... And yet, it doesn't have to be as it is still a great country with terrific food, beautiful landscape... It has everything it needs to succeed. France needs a make over! Come on, snap out of it! It is OK to be as "has been"; the old France was then, this is now. Live in the present France, you have been rolling on your old glory for too long. Time to change direction.
    (What does your girlfriend think of all of this? It would be nice to hear from french people living in France, not expats).

    1. What you write there finds an echo in what some French analysts are saying - that their country is 'afraid'. People are afraid of change. That's very regrettable because the fact that the French are such good innovators and are capable of making the best of what they've got - the famous 'système D' for débrouiller - makes them theoretically capable of adapting. But there seems to be some kind of national neurosis stopping that happening. Why isn't it? I think the reasons include politicians and their hysterical excesses are hardly setting an example, the press is full of 'should we be afraid of.....' type articles and contagion by the populism and 'peur d'autri' which is to be found in much of Europe, which has become a pessimistic place.

      Thanks for the article and yes a dose of being grateful for what one has would be good. And we have a lot here in France, that's the irony of it all.

  3. Here is a step in the right direction. France needs a dose of this :