Next month, Temple University will publish Constructing Muslims in France: Discourse, Public Identity, and the Politics of Citizenship, by Jennifer Fredette (San Diego State University). The publisher’s description follows.
The standing of French Muslims is undercut by a predominant and persistent elite public discourse that frames Muslims as failed and incomplete French citizens. This situation fosters the very separations, exclusions, and hierarchies it claims to deplore as Muslims face discrimination in education, housing, and employment.
In Constructing Muslims in France, Jennifer Fredette provides a deft empirical analysis to show the political diversity and complicated identity politics of this relatively new population. She examines the public identity of French Muslims and evaluates images in popular media to show how stereotyped notions of racial and religious differences pervade French public discourse. While rights may be a sine qua non for fighting legal and political inequality, Fredette shows that additional tools such as media access are needed to combat social inequality, particularly when it comes in the form of unfavorable discursive frames and public disrespect.
Presenting the conflicting views of French national identity, Fredette shows how Muslims strive to gain recognition of their diverse views and backgrounds and find full equality as French citizens.
My St. John’s colleague, Rosemary Salomone, has written an essay on proposals to ban religious dress in French universities, “Should the Veil Be Banned in Higher Education?” Here’s a synopsis:
The piece discusses competing approaches to the uniquely French concept of “laicite,” a form of secularism, and the current debate in France over a proposal from the High Council for Integration to ban ostensible religious signs or clothing from French public universities. Though the proposal does not mention Islam, Professor Salomone argues that the target clearly is the wearing of the Islamic “hijab” or headscarf. Professor Salomone questions the reasons offered for the ban, based on alleged incidents of religious conflicts in universities, which the Minister of Higher Education and Research and the president of the Conference of University Presidents refute. She warns that banning the veil would unjustly deny some Muslim young women their only option for higher education and further isolate them culturally and religiously. She further suggests that the debate ignores the forces of globalization, transnationalism, and European integration, the consequent rise of “world citizens” among the younger French population, and the gradual integration of Muslims into French society that inevitably will loosen the French approach to “laicite,” and perhaps sooner than the current debate would lead us to believe.
NYU’s Maison Française will host a lecture by French historian Jean Baubérot (École Pratique des Hautes Études), “La Laïcité face aux mutations de la société française,” on February 25. Baubérot is identified with laïcité en mouvement, a school that represents a middle ground between the laïcité positive of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, with its less hostile view of religion, and the more militantly secular laïcité de combat. Details are here.
Here’s an interview with CLR’s Marc DeGirolami in France-Amérique on the differences between the legal treatment of hate speech in France and the United States. Check it out (in French).
Anatole France famously observed that the law, in its majestic equality, forbids both rich and poor from sleeping under bridges. What would he have said about this weekend’s events in Marseille? At a rally in solidarity with Pussy Riot, the Russian punk band currently in prison for hooliganism, a group of protesters donned the band’s trademark neon balaclavas (above). The police immediately arrested the protesters for violating the French ban on veiling one’s face in public. The ban, which went into effect last year, was obviously directed at Islamic niqabs. To avoid any appearance of bias, however, the law formally forbids face veils generally. If tried and convicted, the protesters are subject to a fine of €150 and a compulsory citizenship course. CLR published a symposium on the ban and other aspects of church-state relation in France in 2010 – check it out here.
Posted in Commentary, Mark L. Movsesian
Tagged Comparative Law and Religion, France, Headscarves, Islam, Laicite, Religion in Europe, Religious Freedom, Religious Liberty, Russia, veils
An interesting piece in Le Monde by Jean-François Bayart (Centre Nationale de la Récherche Scientifique) on the meanings of laïcité, more (as with the Pera book) as a piece of cultural anthropology than for the substance of the views expressed. The author’s sense and description of the differences between French and Turkish laïcité are particularly worth reading in this respect.
Roland Pierik (Amsterdam) and Wibren Van der Burg (Erasmus University Rotterdam) have posted a new piece, What Is Neutrality?, on SSRN. The abstract follows. — MLM
One of the central axioms of liberalism is that government should treat its citizens with equal respect and concern. One way to achieve that goal is that government should be neutral with respect to the variety of ideas of the good life its citizens endorse. The classic liberal interpretation of neutrality is that government should not embrace or penalize particular conceptions of the good life, but should provide a neutral framework within which the various and potentially conflicting conceptions of the good life can be pursued. Important ways of providing such a neutral framework are the employment of general laws that affect all citizens equally – or so it is assumed – and the exclusion of religious arguments and symbols from political debates and the public sphere in general.
In this paper we want to reinvestigate the question of liberal neutrality. We contend that liberal discussions have been dominated – if not hijacked – by one particular interpretation of what neutrality could imply, namely, exclusive neutrality, that aims to exclude religious and cultural expressions from the public sphere. Although we acknowledge the importance of this exclusive interpretation of neutrality in specific contexts, we will argue that that it is only one of several relevant interpretations. To substantiate our claim, we will firstly elaborate upon inclusive neutrality. To do so, we will formulate two supplementary interpretations of neutrality: proportional neutrality and compensatory neutrality. Secondly, we will argue that in most contexts inclusive proportional neutrality is more appropriate than exclusive neutrality.
Our elaboration of these different interpretations of the neutrality ideal can help to acknowledge that some political disputes should not be seen in terms of the antithesis between liberal neutrality and illiberal multiculturalism but of a clash between various valid but incompatible interpretations of what liberal neutrality can imply. In these cases there is no simple or straightforward answer to the question which interpretation of neutrality should prevail. Moreover, since neutrality is not an end in itself, it must be balanced against other liberal values, mentioned above. Philosophical analysis can only show which values are at stake in this balancing act; actual choices can only be made in specific contexts.
Here’s an under-reported story: starting this month, Paris has banned praying in the streets. The ban apparently results from concerns about crowds routinely overflowing mosques and blocking traffic during Friday prayers. Surprisingly, from an American perspective, the government is not justifying the ban as a neutral time, place, and manner restriction applicable to all public gatherings. Rather, according to news reports, the government is justifying the ban as a necessary restriction on religious expression as such. Public prayer “hurts the sensitivities of many of our fellow citizens,” Interior Minister Claude Guéant is quoted as saying. “Praying in the street is not dignified for religious practice and violates the principles of secularism.” The Minister vows that force will be used on Muslims — and adherents of other faiths — who violate the new rule.
I wonder whether the Minister is being quoted out of context. Although it’s certainly reasonable to keep the streets clear, it doesn’t seem reasonable to single out religious gatherings in particular. And, notwithstanding the Minister’s comments, I’m not sure that French secularism, or laïcité, requires such a ban. Laïcité is a complex concept, but both the Conseil d’État and the Conseil Constitutionnel have indicated that, as a legal matter, laïcité does not generally require bans on public religious expression. (For helpful discussions of laïcité as a legal concept, see CLR’s recent symposium, Laïcité in Comparative Perspective, in the Journal of Catholic Legal Studies). Wouldn’t it have made more sense to ban all crowds that block public streets without a permit? One irony: notwithstanding the concern for secularism, the government is allowing one large Muslim congregation that was blocking the streets to use a public fire station for prayers until the congregation can build a bigger mosque. — MLM