French Identity, Muslim Identity: Universalism, Laïcité, and the Islamic Challenge. Jennifer Webster. Chapel Hill PDF

French Identity, Muslim Identity: Universalism, Laïcité, and the Islamic Challenge Jennifer Webster A thesis submitted to the faculty of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in partial fulfillment

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French Identity, Muslim Identity: Universalism, Laïcité, and the Islamic Challenge Jennifer Webster A thesis submitted to the faculty of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in the Department of Political Science. Chapel Hill 2007 Approved by: Donald Searing John Stephens Milada Vachudova Abstract Jennifer Webster French Identity, Muslim Identity: Universalism, Laïcité, and the Islamic Challenge (Under the direction of Donald Searing, John Stephens, and Milada Vachudova) Europe is currently embroiled in a debate over the challenges Muslim immigration poses to national identity and cultural cohesion. As nations seek the best way to accommodate the values of the mainstream while respecting the rights and beliefs of Muslim minorities, they must make decisions about what tolerance really means, and the extent to which it requires secularism. The uniquely French value of laïcité, created from universalist ideals as a French solution to what was originally a French problem, is not incompatible with strong religious identity, but it is incompatible with the public expression of faith an expression that many Muslims believe Islam requires. This essay will explore the reasons why the concept of French identity as universal and secular challenges France s Muslim minority (and vice versa) and why the application of laïcité within a universalist framework is still the best way to foster the creation of a truly French Islam. ii Table of Contents The Continental Context: In Search of a European Identity Multiculturalism or Assimilation: Different Approaches to Integration The French Ideal: Universalism and Laïcité The French Reality: Nous et les Autres The Battle for the Banlieues: Economics and Intégrisme L Affaire du Foulard: Women and the Burden of Multiculturalism Islam en France, Islam de France: French Muslims and the Evolution of Identity References iii It was at the expense of their culture that European individuals gained, one by one, all their rights. In the end, it is the critique of tradition that constitutes the spiritual foundation of Europe. Alain Finkielkraut The Continental Context: In Search of a European Identity Over the past few decades, globalization has melted borders and brought different peoples, groups, cultures, and nations into ever closer contact with each other at an accelerated pace that shows no signs of reversing or even slowing down. This dynamic process encourages innovation, but also creates pressure and conflict as different ideas and beliefs mix and clash. In an ironic reversal of a previous tendency to view the rest of the world as its playground, Europe has emerged as a key region in this period of transition, as an immigration destination rather than a set of emigration nations (Bauman 2004:14). The European continent is now struggling to come to terms with new challenges created by its increased proximity to the rest of the world, so to speak, and it is being transformed in ways that will test the cohesion of our nascent global society. There are a number of factors contributing to Europe s confusion. Globalization has created new economic opportunities for many, while forcing others into conditions of precarity and uncertainty. The European Union s integration policies have dissolved physical, political, and economic borders between European countries, encouraging people, with mixed results, to subsume their national identities and to think of themselves as European rather than as Greek, Polish, German, or Swedish. Meanwhile, Europe s immigrant population has continued to grow exponentially. New multicultural hubs, of which London is perhaps the most dazzling example, are teeming with people from all over the world, boasting a rich spectrum of cultures, languages, and faces, as well as a staggering variety of delicious ethnic foods (which is where my particular attention usually wanders). Yet as stimulating as diversity can be, recent events remind us that anxiety and prejudice are seldom far below the surface in even the most diverse societies. The erosion of national identities coupled with economic uncertainty and the simultaneous influx of ever-larger numbers of immigrants has made Europeans feel insecure and confused, and terrorist attacks in Madrid, London, and elsewhere both exacerbate the situation and make it clear that it is not just Europeans who are having trouble adjusting to global pluralism. This internal upheaval has propelled Europe into a heated discussion about the nature of European identity. Questions about Europe s physical and cultural boundaries in turn raise questions about who is or is not European, creating multiple spheres of belonging and exclusion. Attempts to consolidate Western space and identity have caused pressure to build along cultural fault lines. Fractured societies are emerging, where ethnic and cultural groups both native and non-native settle, congregate and interact in discrete territorialized blocs in an attempt to carve out zones of familiarity and comfort in the midst of difference, marginalization, and rejection. Étienne Balibar (2003:172) argues that this differential inclusion of European apartheid in the process of globalization no doubt explains why, more and more, the traditional figure of the external enemy is being replaced by that of the internal enemy. The subsequent climate of insecurity has crystallized in the current debate over the presence of Muslim immigrants, in light of their failure to integrate into wider European society to the degree desired by native Europeans. In many ways, France can be considered a microcosm of this situation. For several reasons, notably the 2004 ban on the hijab (headscarf) in public schools and the 2005 riots in the banlieues (projects), France finds itself in the eye of the storm raging over Muslim integration, and thus it is easy to view France as a sort of barometer for similar issues brewing elsewhere in Europe. Meanwhile, France s universalist approach to its residents, Muslim or otherwise, creates unique advantages and disadvantages that deserve to be assessed. Europe s cultural clash with Islam can be examined usefully in the context of the ongoing debate in France between the 2 French conception of identity as universal and secular, and the assertion of a specific Muslim identity as a quest for recognition in the public space. 3 Multiculturalism or Assimilation: Different Approaches to Integration From the Canadian mosaic and the Norwegian fargerik fellesskap ( colorful community ) to the American melting pot and the German leitkultur ( core culture ), every country has its own approach to integration. The merits of the British, Dutch, and French models have been among the most widely debated, and they are good examples of the variation to be found among European standards. The British approach to integration is a pragmatic multiculturalism that emerged from the historical Anglo-Saxon tradition of individual rights. This rights-based system emphasizes the value of individual and collective choice, and seeks to ensure the protection of minority rights from the tyranny of the majority. The British public space is a free space, and individuals and groups operating within that free space are allowed a fair amount of influence over the establishment of rules and regulations that affect them. By way of an example in the context of Islamic interests, the Muslim Council of Britain is arguably the most powerful Muslim organization active in national European politics today. Generally speaking, the pragmatic approach also allows for the negotiation of rights and preferences as circumstances require. For example, individual public schools are permitted to decide whether or in what form the hijab can be adapted to the dress code. The Dutch approach also emphasizes multiculturalism as a way to secure individual rights, but relies upon a system known as verzuiling, or pillarization, which encourages the division of society into ethnic and religious subgroups in a sort of separate but equal approach (Bawer 2006:13). The pillarization system creates a division of society such that many people have little contact with members of other groups although after the historical violence that divided the Netherlands for centuries, the confrontation-shy Dutch view this as an acceptable alternative to conflict. The Dutch public space is also a free space where freedom and tolerance are the rule, but due to the pillarization system, there are (so to speak) multiple spheres of freedom without much overlap. The traditional pillars of Catholic, Protestant, liberal, and socialdemocratic each with separate schools, hospitals, political parties, and even newspapers and television channels were able to achieve an equilibrium, but the addition of more pillars has increasingly strained the system, as more diversity makes it more difficult to ensure separate but equal conditions for everyone (Bawer 2006:13). The French approach to integration, by contrast, is aggressively and unapologetically assimilationist, in that the particularities of individuals and groups are always subjugated to the larger idea of the universal. Assimilation is simply viewed as the best way to protect what are viewed as universal rights from the tyranny of the minority. According to Republican thought, living together in a society requires agreement on basic values such that citizens must all subscribe to the same values in the public sphere (Bowen 2007:11,157). Public space, therefore, is first and foremost shared space, where general interests and common ideals are valued over and above individual interests and diversity an interpretation that places clear constraints on acceptable conduct and expression within that space (Bowen 2007:11). One such constraint is laïcité, the French conception of secularism. 5 The French Ideal: Universalism and Laïcité The rationale behind the assimilationist approach to integration is undeniably traceable to the historical concept of universalism. Naomi Schor (2001:43) defines French universalism as the converse of particularism ethnic, religious, national, or otherwise. Universalism, writes Schor, was grounded in the belief that human nature that is, rational human nature was a universal, impervious to cultural and historical differences. Transcultural, transhistorical human nature was posited as identical, beyond particularisms (Schor 2001:46). Inspired by enlightenment thinkers and the Revolutionary values of 1789, French universalism emphasizes the universal human liberty, equality, and reason that supersede specific languages, ethnicity, and particularist culture ; to develop the former values, public expression of the latter is strongly discouraged (Bader 1997:779). The neutrality of the public space is considered absolutely essential to the correct functioning of this model, where citizens, regardless of their regional, ethnic, or religious origin, are entitled, even required, to come together as equals to enact secular rituals and to reinforce the shared values of the social order (Terrio 1999:441). Ironically, it was French colonialism s later pursuit of the application of this universalism, which sought to extend the ideals of 1789 to other parts of the world, that Schor argues largely discredited the concept of universalism (Schor 2001:46). And yet, says Schor, access to the universal stubbornly remains a key phrase in France s discourse of national self-representation and identity (Schor 2001:48). The practical application of access to the universal is provided in the form of French citizenship and the rights and responsibilities it entails. France has a relatively long history of immigration, and the early presence of immigrants in France prompted the state to establish and develop the boundaries of French citizenship, the conception of which has had a significant impact on the social integration of immigrants (Collomp 1999:65). Rogers Brubaker contrasts the jus sanguinis ( blood right ) conception of citizenship, where citizenship is granted on the basis of ethnic descent, with the jus soli ( territory right ) conception, where citizenship is awarded to anyone born within state borders. Whereas jus sanguinis is a closed or resistant form of citizenship that enforces a particular collective identity based on national ethnicity, jus soli permits the assimilation of citizens by birth, by ritual conversion, or by naturalization (Koopmans and Statham 1999: ). France allows access to citizenship based on a combination of jus soli and jus sanguinis. Universalism supports the idea that anyone who accepts the values of the state can become French; immigrants are thus encouraged to become citizens on the condition that they recognize the dominant cultural and political values of France. This approach stresses that what binds people are universally shared values rather than racial or ethnic characteristics. The French assimilationist approach thus differs markedly from British or Dutch multiculturalism, which strives to call attention to differences, in that French immigration policies have tended to assimilate difference in the name of a single nation (Sniderman and Hagendoorn 2007:5; Schor 2001:50). Therefore, private identity has no right to claim a recognized place in public space, and the state denies public relevance to private identity. As a historical entity, neither the French state nor any other state is absolutely neutral, nor can it be, writes Anna Elisabetta Galeotti (1993:592). For instance, it is not neutral about nationality: the public sphere in France is French, and the members of the public are French citizens, itself a historical concept. Universality is thus paradoxical, in that achieving universal French identity requires the repudiation of specific individual identity in the form of any public cultural particularism. Tolerance is seen as something of a non-issue; if citizens adhere to common republican ideals in public and keep divisive personal beliefs properly tucked away in private life, then there are no differences that need to be tolerated, in the sense that there is never an opportunity for the contradictory private beliefs of citizens to meet head-on. Assimilation does not signify tolerance, according to Schor. Indeed, it may be viewed as merely the most common 7 form of intolerance of otherness, or rather of the otherness of the other. In this critical perspective it is but another form of false universalism (Schor 2001:50). Universalism is not so much a matter of excluding the Other, but of including it to the extent that one renders it like oneself (Schor 2001:50). Insofar as French universalism is an idea based around a particular understanding of the nature of citizenship and belonging, civic identity is forged in the great equalizing machine that is the French school system. Schools have historically been entrusted with the task of solidly grounding students in universalism and infusing them with the principles of liberté, égalité, et fraternité (Bowen 2007:12). As such, the public school is meant to produce French citizens, and not the citizens of a multiethnic polity (Galeotti 1993:592). In order to accomplish this goal, schools are expected to be a neutral space in much the same way as the state is, and for this reason adherence to the principle of laïcité, or secularism, is considered vital. Jules Ferry, the French pioneer of secular education, referred to the école sanctuaire, or the schoolroom sanctuary, as a place free from divisive exceptionalism (Kramer 2004:60). Far from being viewed as oppressive or restrictive, the principle of laïcité is considered essential to the successful integration of all members of society. The civic life of the state that awaits French students is seen as an extension of the same principles ingrained at school. Thus public life in general, and certainly civic life in particular, is not considered an appropriate forum for the overt expression of difference, and good French citizens are duly reared in accordance with this principle. French universalism takes a particularly hard line on religious expression, because it is seen to pose a more serious problem than any secular expression of difference. The significance of laïcité as a hard-won principle should not be underestimated here. The passion and fury of religious conviction fueled many of the wars that plagued France and much of Europe throughout history. The development of the policy of laïcité was the direct result of the state s final triumph over the church and religion as alternative sources of power and truth (Bowen 2007:12). Laïcité is the symbol of state subjugation of religion and the banishment of belief from public space. All 8 of this should not be understood to indicate an incompatibility of laïcité and strong religious identity. On the contrary, laïcité in the public sphere is meant to safeguard the right to practice any religious faith of any strength in the private sphere. Laïcité is idealized as a principle that protects state (and hence public) neutrality, but examining the details of its historical development reveals cracks in its façade of impartiality. Although laïcité revolves around secularism, the concept was developed as the result of hundreds of years of religious struggle among Christian groups in France, and is therefore a particular response to the Christian religious tradition and political concepts that were forged in the same fire. Put another way, laïcité has more to do with Christianity than is apparent at first glance. Despite a marked decline in active Christian practice among Europeans in modern times, recent polls indicate that there is a still a relatively high level of belief, indicating that Europeans are still passively Christian in large numbers (Klausen 2005:138). However, whether one is passionately or passively Christian tends to make little difference under laïcité, simply because the Christian assumption is that faith is a matter of belief and therefore about thought (Klausen 2005:155). In the indigenous Christian tradition of Europe, strong belief does not require the public expression of faith, and so secularism has worked well to neutralize tensions between religious and secular forces in society. Laïcité, therefore, is compatible with Christian forms of organized religion precisely because they do not require public expression of faith. Not necessarily so for the imported faiths of immigrants, notably Islam and Sikhism, which to varying degrees of interpretation encourage or require public rituals and outward symbols of faith. Much like Orthodox Jews (who were once persecuted in Europe for precisely the same religious abnormalities), Muslims generally believe that faith demands not only thought, but specific action as well, and therein lies the major conflict between laïcité and Islam. Europeans are generally willing to grant people the right to practice religion in private, Jyette Klausen (2005:155) notes, but are less comfortable with public displays of faith of the sort found in Islam. Four of the five pillars of Islam shahada (profession of faith), salah (ritual prayer), sawm 9 (fasting during Ramadan), and hajj (ritual pilgrimage to Mecca) along with other public ritual practices such as the animal sacrifice of the Eid al-adha holiday, give Islam an observable quality that Europeans are wary of (Bowen 2007:20). Such visible expressions of faith simply fall outside the template of organized Christian religion, in its comfortably contained form, performed inside a familiar sacred place once a week, with teachings intended to guide private life (Bowen 2007:20). Unusual clothing, beards, and veils increase the sensation that Islam is strange and exotic. The headscarf and the mosque are not objectively
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