In laicite we trust


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In laicite we trust

  1. 1. “In ‘Laicite’ We Trust!” Unveiling the French Naked Statue of Lady Liberty By: Bayan Shadaideh For: Prof. Jocelyne Cesarie Islam in The West Post 9/11: Radicalization or Integration? Harvard University - 2010
  2. 2. France has been raising many views and eyebrows with what has been called “The Veil Debate”. The intimate relationship of the issue of the veil with Islamophobia, oppressed Muslim women, terrorism and several other tags were pieces of the puzzle that have been coming together attempting to finally produce the big picture, however it was “Laicite” that represented the final piece of that jigsaw puzzle that succeeded in unveiling an extremely alarming situation that echoes cries of fear of losing the French identity and raise (on top of the already raised views and eyebrows) questions that would reveal the essence of the French naked Statue of Liberty. What is the distinctive French definition of freedom? Why is it being redefined and asserted now? Why doesn’t it have tolerance for the Hijab? Why is this called “The Veil Debate” when it actually is not, but rather a monologue rather than a dialogue, and it reached levels of excluding certain members of the French society? What are the underlying reasons for fear of losing the French identity that lead to all of these issues being raised? How are the French converts to Islam contributing to these fears? Are the decisions France is making harmonious with the European Union Commision’s strategy? Are they respectful of Human Rights? Why is the U.S.A against them? What are the consequences of this decision and what is it’s impact on the French society? Is “Laicite-Phobia” in the making now? Is it true that the whole issue was created and magnified just to have more applause for the French elections? In this paper I will be zooming in on these issues, and attempt not only to answer the upper mentioned cloud of questions, but to open the gates for new ones. The “Veil debate” has many dimensions that call for our utmost attention for it includes ambiguous codes to decipher and reach the depth of the whole matter. Democracy, liberty, citizenship, freedom and even the individual are currently being redefined and rediscovered, and this in itself might be the core issue being unveiled! Introduction “MAN is born free; and everywhere he is in chains. One thinks himself the master of others, and still remains a greater slave than they. How did this change come about? I do not know.”1 Rousseau Though Rousseau Theorized the answers in “The Social Contract”, which France considers to be the laying foundation for its being an indivisible, secular, democratic and social Republic, this question now enforces itself upon all of us again and questions how the process ruins the very purpose of the contract. 1 THE SOCIAL CONTRACT” OR PRINCIPLES OF POLITICAL RIGHT by Jean Jacques Rousseau
  3. 3. The Statue of Liberty was given as a gift to the United States of America to honor the “Liberty” it has attained and to send a message to the French that someday France might be able to enjoy that same liberty. "Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World", Bartholdi (its maker) entitled it, and then France finally got its freedom. Though we always thought that the Liberty France got is the same that Liberty America realized, and consequently is the same Liberty we all honor and defend, the Veil debate has succeeded in making us realize that Liberty is not universal, and has so many faces to show. Though the Statue of Liberty’s universal message is of hope and freedom for immigrants coming to America and people seeking freedom around the world, it has given its back to the immigrants in France, and is adamant to having a totally different look than the one we know. First and foremost is that she needs a mirror instead of the torch for she would rather “see” her own reflection rather than constantly raising her hand to “enlighten” the whole world. As Pierre Nora, Editor of “Sites of Memory” said “It is by means of the State – that is, by its history and policies- that France has remained aware of itself2”. Secondly is her desire to change her dress for it is not compatible with the fashion of the “Laicite” decoration of secular liberty she sees in her book, and therefore would much prefer being naked. And Thirdly is that she demands having a “Monsieur” of Liberty with her on that altar for her to enjoy feeling and expressing her femininity to him and therefore assure having the “Mixite” required to certify that it portrays the “Right” manifestation of Liberty it stands for. This is not a far fetched exaggeration unfortunately, but an asserted and accentuated visual representation of the several issues that “The Veil Debate” has been unfolding. When Sarkozy announced in June 2009 that “The Burqa is not welcome in France”, and a law has been issued and approved to fine women wearing the Burqa accordingly, the world paid attention to the developments of the sequence of events that have been building up in France against the Muslim Women’s symbolic dress; The Veil. And ever since then this high note has resonated to echo the many questions and topics touched upon hereby so far. France has been attempting to emphasize that this decision (or series of decisions) has nothing to do with Islam as a religion in particular, but it is to preserve the “Secular” French identity. However, the majority of credible analysts have not been convinced with that argument and they instead reason that “Racism was the subtext of the headscarf controversy, but secularism was its explicit justification. The law prohibiting “conspicuous” signs of religious affiliation in public schools was defined above all as a defense of Laicite”3 as Joan Wallach Scott said in “The Politics of The Veil” and in which he also said “The preservation of mythical notion of “France” in its many aspects was a driving force in the affair des foulard. The deep psychic investments revealed by the issue were less about fears of terrorism (there were surely better ways to deal with terrorism than 2 “Why the French Don‟t Like Headscarves” Islam, the State, and Public Space. John R. Browen 3 The Politics of the Veil .Joan Wallach Scott
  4. 4. banning the headscarf, some of which were suggested by various commissions) than about defending French national identity in which the French way of addressing the relations between the sexes was a critical, inviolable component”4 As a result a microscopic analysis has been launched to re-assert the French identity through the lens of “The Veil Debate”. The need for recuperating this identity is multifold yet strong enough for the layman to feel the urgency behind it. We here by, therefore, will be going through the hallways in the sphere of France’s public space while bearing in mind that this could be a clairvoyant journey that presents us with several gifts of wisdom to pause at and reflect upon enough to be their guides rather than being blindly guided by them. Lady Liberty Needs Her Laiciteof Space and Mixiteof Mind For Lady Liberty to prevail in The Republic of France she needs to ascertain that Laicite “protects, privileges, multifunctional social space within which Republican principles could survive and prosper.”5 So, Laicite is the means by which the “Public Space” is neutralized to practice the Republican principles. The “State” is the direct owner of the Public and social space for it is the state which is the means of freedom. Everything and everyone in this “space” should be an active actor of the national community. Blandine Kriegel (a high state official) explained the importance of “Laicite” to author John Browen by saying “We hold strongly to the principle of Laicite. We have to place ourselves in the public space, by abstracting from our individual characteristic, from where we came from, our roots, this is the idea of the social contract…Here in France each individual has to abstract her/himself from those traditions and accept the transfer of certain rights to the law, that is the contract; we move from pluralism to unity through consent…We have to draw the line at personal rights of every individual. These are human rights”.6 To bind all participants of the Republic to the “Social Contract” means that the contract is the center of the ripple around which all other ripples expand, therefore it is the sanctity of the contract that the system is striving to protect, and those “Individuals” who are not in perfect alignment will be considered a threat therefore to Laicite. President Chirac described Laicite in 2003 as “the privileged site for meeting and exchange, where people find themselves and can best contribute to the national community. It is the neutrality of the public space that permits the peaceful coexistence of different religions” 4 The Politics of the Veil .Joan Wallach Scott 5 “Why the French Don’t Like Headscarves” Islam, the State, and Public Space. John R. Browen 6 “Why the French Don’t Like Headscarves” Islam, the State, and Public Space. John R. Browen
  5. 5. Since France is “Secular” and “Indivisible” Laicite has to make sure that this is properly manifested in the Public Space, therefore not any Public display of (any) religion can be apparent not to obstruct this reflection. In fact the word Religion itself has no existence in French Law, “Le Culte” is the word used which refers to the “outward expression of the relationship between man and God, which is to be expressed in three main categories; Mass, Buildings and Teachings.”7 Other than these three “Le Culte” is not to be expressed; which is the core of the argument against “The Veil” and “The Niqab” as a religious symbol being expressed in the “Public Space” hindering the flow of Laicite. “Mixite” is as well of extreme significance to the practice of the “Contract” and it is best understood when discussed through the argument presented against “The Veil” by the French Government “girls lost their feminine identity if their bodies couldn‟t be seen. Identity was conferred by men‟s being able to see them as sexual objects. Feminine Identity depended on male desire; male desire depended on visual simulation.”8 The French identity needs Laicite and Mixite to exist! The criticisms are abundant and the fear of this fear is that it could expand and feed upon itself, and find other ways and means to protect Laicite and Mixite even when they stand against the rights of the Human who is in value beyond the “Individual” participant in the contract. What’s The “Veil” Got To Do With It? One cannot help but wonder how much does the “Veil” impede the flow of Laicite in the French Public Space and whether there have been any major direct reasons with urgent concerns that lead to the eruption of the whole issue, after all there has to be a logical deduction to explain this intense behaviour on behalf of the French Government. According to the New York Times “In 2009, the French equivalent of the FBI reported that the practice of wearing a veil was “marginal.” There appeared to be only 367 women in all of France who wore the niqab. A second police agency confirmed the initial report. Subsequent work increased the estimate to a maximum of 2,000 women. With over 30 million women in France the phenomenon did indeed appear marginal. None of the reports said the women were a danger; no post office, bank or other institution complained that veiled women were a problem.”9! 7 “Why the French Don’t Like Headscarves” Islam, the State, and Public Space. John R. Browen 8 The Politics of the Veil .Joan Wallach Scott 9 Veiled Arguments By RONALD P. SOKOL.
  6. 6. In French “A voile is a veil, and it is nearly always used in the singular, suggesting a uniformity of garment, and perhaps a uniformity of thinking.” 10 But even if the “Veil” was lost in French translation enough to cause reminiscence of the pains prior the separation of Church and State, is it enough a reason for all these actions? And even-though there have been several confirmations that the rule applies to all religions, why is the emphasis clearly put on Muslims? “The public ubiquity of crosses and churches could be ignored- for reasons of civil peace, but ignoring crescents and mosques was more difficult”11 So, it appears to be that investing in the already harmed impression of Islam can be effectively and politically employed to be used as an exercise tool for redefining the French Identity as well as serving several other purposes such as limiting Islam and Muslims from growing in the “Public Space”. They Are Oppressed; We Believe They Are, Then They Definitely Should Be! The pre-set judgment is much louder than all the responses to the questions that are only used as accessories to investigate oppression behind the veil. No statistics are used in these studies and even when it is lucidly clear that women clarify that they are “Not” oppressed, the government would still see that they are. “A decision to wear the veil could never be seen as a reasonable choice while admitting that a few (certain) girls considered the veil a means of emancipation, the National Assembly study group insisted that many more (beaucoup) felt it oppressive. There were, needless to say, no statistics offered to back up this assertion, just anecdotes and the opinions of ‘experts’ who already agreed that a law banning headscarves was needed” 12 But as sociologists and philosophers argue ‘In all cases it is on welcoming them (the girls in headscarves) to the secular school that we can help emancipate them, by giving them the means of achieving autonomy… in sending them away, we condemn them to oppression” 13 Why Don’t They Speak Up, We Are Listening (To Anything That Supports Our Point) With the decision pre-set as discussed, listening is limited to selective arguments that prove the point, 10 “Why the French Don’t Like Headscarves” Islam, the State, and Public Space. John R. Browen 11 “Why the French Don’t Like Headscarves” Islam, the State, and Public Space. John R. Browen 12 The Politics of the Veil .Joan Wallach Scott 13 The Politics of the Veil .Joan Wallach Scott
  7. 7. When it doesn’t, then we simply can say that they are not “defending” themselves. Saida Kada, the veiled author of „One Veiled, The Other Not‟ is the founder of French Muslim Women in Action explained the logic behind wearing the veil in Islam “One is a Muslim first, one adheres to a certain philosophy of life and in this context, one wants to wear the headscarf. The discovery of Islam is marked by a series of steps that successively fashion your identity by leading you to find equilibrium in your self, in God and with others”14 “For some of the girls interviewed, a spiritual commitment involved submitting oneself not to men or man-made laws but to God. Through knowledge of God my faith grew and I wanted to wear the veil as a sign of humility” 15 But these voices, no matter how loud and clear, are not to be hear, because France will not be able to see beyond its set prejudice based on Laicite and Mixite. A dear friend of mine, Motaz Nasr, is a well renowned artist on the global front, when I asked him why the Arab and Muslim world doesn’t respond to these issues through art, he said “We did! Through music and cinema and paintings and everything, they don’t want to listen! And we are sick and tired of being in the defense seat. It is too demeaning. And look at it this way, with all what is happening now, we know a lot about them, and they just figured out they know nothing about us. Ironic. No?” We Wanted To Unveil The Immigrants, Not Veil The Converts! That hollow sphere which is void of any spiritual practice has been yearning for enrichment and deeper moral values which is leading to having many converting to Islam. As explained by Kevin Brice from Swansea University, who has specialised in studying white conversion to Islam, these women are part of an intriguing trend ‘They seek spirituality, a higher meaning, and tend to be deep thinkers. The other type of women who turn to Islam are what I call “converts of convenience”. They’ll assume the trappings of the religion to please their Muslim husband and his family, but won’t necessarily attend mosque, pray or fast.‟16 Le Parisien newspaper, citing UOIF estimates, said there were 4,000 converts to Islam in the year 2006.17 And the numbers have been rising every year. 25 % of the approximately 2000 French 14 The Politics of the Veil .Joan Wallach Scott 15 The Politics of the Veil .Joan Wallach Scott 16 slam.html?ito=feedsnewsxml#ixzz14NACajyk 17 Source: Reuters FACTBOX-European converts to Islam
  8. 8. Muslims who wear a form of full-face veil are ethnically French Muslim converts.18 The young French Rapper Diam’s (Mélanie Georgiades) has converted to Islam, explaining to the French Press, “Medicine was not able to heal my soul, so I turned toward religion.”19 As evidently clear the French (and European) women’s converting to Islam, and choosing to be veiled is just an added exclamation mark to the debate issue, however with these numbers rising after 9/11, having these events would only stir more attention to converting probably and therefore France will be “excluding” it’s own “Individuals” who converted from the “Contract” to Islam! Laicitephobia! Fear of “Laicite” has been escalating among Muslims (both immigrants and converts) in France due to the latest developments. Hate Crimes have reached extreme heights and causing many cries of warning. “Why are levels of hate crime higher in France than in other EU member states?” is the question posed for teaching geography in Europe, because it is what any student would ask after looking at the statistics. “France has the highest levels of hate crime, closely followed by the UK (which incidentally isn't very good on other indicators either!). Germany has about average levels of hate crime compared to the EU average. Spain has below average levels of hate crime and Italy has the lowest levels of all 5 countries”20 . Some incidents will not be forgotten easily, such as the Muslim graves that desecrated in 2008 “The graves were in the Muslim section of Notre Dame de Lorette, among France’s largest war cemeteries, near the northern town of Arras. The dead are mostly from World War I, and the Muslim graves, representing the dead of colonial armies, are turned toward Mecca.”21 “A pig's head 18 The burqa ban: Liberty by coercion. 19 20 21 Muslim Graves Desecrated in France
  9. 9. was hung from one headstone and slogans insulting Islam and France's Muslim justice minister were daubed on other graves”22 The crime’s rates would definitely increase even more after the new “Burqa Ban” contributing to accentuating “Laicitephobia” for Muslims (immigrants, converts and tourists) in France, and to speculative fear of this new power that dictates such extreme rules, for what if it expands to focus on other religions after Islam? After all is it a “secular” public space, so maybe Islam was just the beginning. What about the European Space? The World’s Space? The Human’s Space? France is not on a foreign planet in a distant galaxy, it is a part of planet earth and the “Human’s Space”, a fact that has been recently continuously tested with all the decisions the government has been taking and proving that France has a unique identity. As a prominent member of the European Union Commission, France has been proving to be going against the collective understanding; Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg “Those who have argued for a general ban of the burqa and the niqab have not managed to show that these garments in any way undermine democracy, public safety, order or morals. The fact that a very small number of women wear such clothing has made proposals in such a direction even less convincing. Nor has it been possible to prove that these women in general are victims of more gender repression than others. Those who have been interviewed in the media have presented a diversity of religious, political and personal arguments for their decision to dress themselves as they do.”23 But then again, maybe France needs to accentuate it’s identity for fear of being diluted in the European Union. The United States has as well been against these decisions and made it clear that Washington is in disagreement with a ban approved by the lower house of France's National Assembly on use of face- covering Islamic veils in public. "We do not think that you should legislate what people can wear or not wear associated with their religious beliefs," said State Department spokesman Philip Crowley. 24 And the International Human Rights has definitely been voicing it’s incongruity; "We are against a general interdiction because under international human rights conventions, nobody should be prevented from wearing any kind of dress," said Patrick Delouvin, a spokesman for Amnesty International "Women should not be forced to wear the burqa or niqab in certain countries or forced not to wear it in others," he told IPS.25 22 French Muslim war graves Defaced 23 Burqa Ban May Prove Counter-Productive By A. D. McKenzie 24 US joins criticals of French veil ban 25 Burqa Ban May Prove Counter-Productive By A. D. McKenzie
  10. 10. But what France has been reiterating is that according to its own reference of “Liberty” The Human is the “Individual” who is a member of “Laicite” and has to be in harmony with the “Manifestation” of the “Contract” as is utterly clarified in Article 10 of the Declaration of Human and Citizen’s Rights “No one may be persecuted for his opinions, even religious ones, provided that their manifestation doesn’t disturb the public order established by the law”26 By that France has been recurrently proving it’s individual self apart from the whole world’s public space which has been knitted through the veil debate. Is “Laicite” France’s Official Religion? Defining a Religion is not at all an easy task since scientists haven’t agreed on a particular method for doing that, however according to the way France defines a religion in order for it to recognize it (though it states that it doesn’t recognize any religion) is “if it’s followers come together in formal ceremonies, the beliefs contain universal religious principles, the group had a long existence and it’s activities do not threaten public order.”27 In this context “Laicite” fits perfectly the identification required for officially recognizing a religion in France. Further more Rousseau has addressed it as “Civil Religion” in the “Social Contract”; “a purely civil profession of faith of which the Sovereign should fix the articles, not exactly as religious dogmas, but as social sentiments without which a man cannot be a good citizen or a faithful subject. While it can compel no one to believe them, it can banish from the State whoever does not believe them — it can banish him, not for impiety, but as an anti-social being, incapable of truly loving the laws and justice, and of sacrificing, at need, his life to his duty. If any one, after publicly recognising these dogmas, behaves as if he does not believe them, let him be punished by death: he has committed the worst of all crimes, that of lying before the law.”28 Which is exactly what the French government is doing; “Banishing” those who are ant-social beings. Accordingly France’s Laicite can very easily be defined as a “Religion” which according to it’s roots in the “Contract” is identified as the “Civil Religion” and with the dynamics of existing all this time has fit the way France itself recognizes Religions and “Les Cultes”. Therefore people are wondering 26 “Why the French Don‟t Like Headscarves” Islam, the State, and Public Space. John R. Browen 27 “Why the French Don’t Like Headscarves” Islam, the State, and Public Space. John R. Browen 28 Civil Religion. “THE SOCIAL CONTRACT” OR PRINCIPLES OF POLITICAL RIGHT by Jean Jacques Rousseau
  11. 11. “Will the French government become a 'Taliban equivalent' in Europe, telling women what they should or should not wear?"29 Did All of This Happen Just To Have More Applause? All of this could have been stirred for more votes as many analysts have been confirming, and the situation has been rippling expansively due to Sarkozy’s yearning for winning the elections. Bowen helps us to clearly see this the way he described in the “Boston Review” “The first elections for the new national Islamic organization were held in April of 2003. A week later, Sarkozy addressed the largest gathering of Muslims ever held in France, the twentieth annual Salon du Bourget, a four-day fair featuring hundreds of stands filled with Islamic books, computer programs, and clothing, and speeches by well-known national and, especially, Arab-world speakers, all sponsored by the largest of the three major French Islamic federations, the Union of French Islamic Organizations. On Saturday evening, April 19, Sarkozy entered the auditorium, waving to his applauding audience and bathed in a moving spotlight. He would be the first cabinet minister to address such an assembly, and he took his place at the podium. After a warm introduction he praised his hosts and stressed the importance of equal treatment before the law for everyone, regardless of his religion. He mentioned that the war in Iraq “was not ours.” The audience applauded at each of these remarks. Muslims, it seemed, had found their place in the Republic. But Sarkozy had been mulling a future run for the presidency, and he had crafted his speech with a larger audience in mind. Halfway through, he sprang a trap on the Muslim leadership. Muslims must obey the same laws as everyone else, he reminded the thousands in the audience, and that means the pictures on their identity cards must be taken with their heads uncovered.”30 Conclusion Even if the whole “Veil” issue (refusing hereby to calling it “The Veil Debate”) was sparked for wanting more votes and basking in the spotlight by Sarkozy, it had started way before that but the plot kept on being thickened until it reached than Burqa Banning threshold. The way it has been dealt with has been exposing a unique definition of Liberty by which France has been asserting it’s identity. This calls us to be more aware about the lines between and behind the lines that might be reshaping our universal definitions of Democracy, Freedom, and Liberty. For even though the original Statue of Liberty is in France, it is in the sphere of Laicite and Mixite symbolizing something different that what we have assumed. 29 Anti-Islam fascism on rise in France, Middle East Online, 8/20/2009 30 Muslims and Citizens: France‟s headscarf controversy by John R. Bowen