March 1, 2018


'Secular' Is a French Word for 'Anti-Muslim': French President Emmanuel Macron can't achieve his economic policy goals with policies that alienate Muslims. (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, February 23, 2018, Bloomberg View)

In supporting the new ban, former prime minister Manuel Valls insisted it was the natural continuation of a long tradition of church and state separation in France. Valls's view represents the consensus view of French political and cultural elites. It is also demonstrably false.

Through modern French political history, including after the 1905 law establishing the separation of church and state, members of the French National Assembly have displayed religious symbols; indeed, through much of that history, it never occurred to anyone that this could contradict secularism in any way.

Prominent post-war French political figures included Roman Catholic priests, who sat in Parliament in their traditional cassock. Abbé Pierre, a Franciscan monk who topped polls for the most admired public figure in France for his humanitarian work for decades until his death in 2007, started out in public life as a member of the National Assembly and never parted from his religious garb. So did Father Félix Kir, a highly colorful figure (yes, the cocktail is named after him) who was never far from center stage in French political life for over two decades. Said Benaisse Boualam, representative of then-French Algeria, sat in traditional Berber robes and turban, claiming the garb as a symbol of his Muslim faith. And yet he was elected four times to the vice presidency of the National Assembly.

The 1905 law ended public subsidies for religious institutions, but instituted no legal or cultural rule against public expression of religious values. So, why are we now told differently?

The answer is obvious: Over the past few decades, millions of people of Muslim faith or Muslim background immigrated to France. It is only then that this novel understanding of secularism emerged. The myth that state secularism has always mandated such rigid interpretations is convenient: If there are problems with French Muslims in France, they can be blamed on their reluctance to embrace the sacred rule of secularism.

Posted by at March 1, 2018 6:29 PM