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Enemies of the State

Posted by on Aug 2nd, 2008 and filed under Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

By YOUSEF DRUMMOND

AN odious level of secular inquisition is underway in France.

When Faiza Silmi, a 32-year-old Moroccan woman recently applied for French citizenship in 2004, a trial court denied her petition a year later, declaring that she had not been “sufficiently assimilated” into French society. The Council of State, the judicial institution of last resort, upheld the trial court decision; Faiza Silmi appealed the trial court’s ruling, invoking the right to religious freedom. “She has adopted a radical practice of here religion, incompatible with essential values of the French community, particularly the principle of equality of the sexes”, read the ruling.

Emmanuelle Prada-Bordenave, the government minister who reported to the Council of State, said that Faiza Silmi’s interview with social services revealed that she lives “in total submission” to her male relatives, seems to find this [submission] normal, and the idea of challenging it never crossed her mind.

When Le Monde first reported the high court’s decision on July 12, her story has been dissected ad nauseum and is stirring public opinion in France – “Is the burqa incompatible with French citizenship?, it asked. Jean-Pierre Dubois, head of France’s Human Rights League, remains “vigilant” and is seeking more information. The American media has not mentioned this story at all.

In a startling interview some days later, Faiza Silmi refuted social services’ assertion that she refused to take off her veil when she was being interviewed for citizenship. When she applied for citizenship, she said, she was worried that her fluent French was not quite perfect enough, and she never imagined that she would’ve been turned down because of what she chose to wear. “The say I wear the niqab because my husband told me so”, she said. “I want to tell them: It’s my choice. I take care of my children and I leave the house when I please. I have my own car. I do the shopping on my own. Yes, I am a practicing Muslim, I am orthodox. But is that not my right?”

Faiza Silmi married Karim, a French national of Moroccan descent some eight years ago and moved to France with him. Conflicting reports maintain that the couple has four children, three boys and a girl, their ages range from 2 to 7, all of whom was born in France. She told the interviewer that her husband serves a steaming pot of mint tea and chocolate cookies. She recounts that she did not wear her veil while driving to pick up the interviewer from the rail station, and she lifts the veil when she picks up her children at the local public school.

Legal experts in France report that it is the first time that a French court has judged someone’s capacity to be assimilated into French society solely on private religious practice. The ruling there has focused on the delicate balance between freedom of religion and the tradition of French Republican secularism, or laicite.

 I still remember some years ago while at college a young Muslim woman praying upon a prayer rug on one of its sprawling lawns, while others walked along their way, seemingly unconcerned with her prostrations. In contrast, members of French society do not share this perception. To them, Muslims are enemies of the state.

France, unlike other European nation-states such as America and Great Britain, has had an uneasy, nay, violent relationship between religion and natural government; and this relationship has been transferred to its secular society. France’s progenitors of the French revolution of 1789 not only separated the Catholic religion from natural government, but it demolished its political and social system, preferring instead to build a society based on a complete vision of social equality. A French Muslim in a crowd sticks out like a sore thumb.

Fadela Amara, the French minister for Urban affairs, concluded that the niqab is “…not a religious insignia but the insignia of a totalitarian political project that promotes inequality between the sexes and is totally lacking in democracy” (italics mine).

Once Europe’s “conservative” secular philosophers tendered in grand philosophical treatises of modern natural government, they, along with like-minded administrators, established concrete legal rules rationales for separating natural government from civil society, or, “the mob”, to make way for natural governments to engage vigorously in international industry, commerce and war. Consequently, these legal rules allowed for a separation of the Christian religion from the public sphere, whereby they established “on the ground” religious expression as an individual right along with other natural rights that include, among other things, the individual right to engage in property relations. Among the secular philosophers that lead the way towards classical liberalism are Locke, Mill, Hegel, and Kant.

Modern European republics have been able to sustain industry and commerce on a grand scale for the past four centuries through established concrete legal rules separating the Christian religion from natural government.

While a transition from a Christo-theocratic to a democratic form of republican government occurred “peacefully” in Great Britain, along with the triumph of individual (among them religious) liberties along and commerce and industry, in 1688, this “peaceful” separation of religion and natural government did not occur in France, circa 1789. The French revolution turned out to be more violent than that of the British, chiefly because its philosophical adherents reacted violently to religious expression to the point of executing religious authorities, as the British statesman Edmund Burke passionately pointed out in his political writings. Another chief reason for this violent revolution is there was no established middle-class in France, a major requirement for any stable civil society, and a “radical” philosophical vision of society – neo-liberalism – called for an ethos of community rather than individuality.

To put it simply, while a classical liberal view of society stressed individuality, its neo-liberal counterpart stressed community – social bonds among individuals, as if the entire society constitutes one bloc. We see then that classical liberalism and neo-liberalism are two different creatures, with neo-liberalism branching off into socialism, communism, etc. And while a classical view of liberalism stresses individual religious freedom, as evidenced in Great Britain and America, the neo-liberal view places little or no emphasis on individual religious freedom of expression; therefore, the French republican constitution gauges individual citizenship rights on each person’s level of assimilation.

Peter O’Brien, professor of political science at Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas, asserts that European liberalism often leads, as if by instinct, to xenophobia when it decides that it cannot “mould” a section of its population to its model of life. The European liberal tradition, he says, rests on a canon that insists that it must convert others to a common set of secular rationalistic values. “When it runs into a population that just won’t convert”, he says, “…it reacts with hostility”. According to O’Brien, the doctrine of liberalism assumes that all persons “properly exposed” to liberalism will in “due time” embrace it. “Opponents are expected to convert to the universality of liberalism. The failure of Muslims to convert leads to a loss of faith in liberalism and adoption of illiberalism”. He cites a poll in which 33% of Europeans described themselves as “racist”. Right-wing extremist groups are attracting large and growing voting blocks. “No longer making up a lunatic fringe, the xenophobes now garner a fifth or a fourth of the popular vote.” Muslim communities, especially in France, have resisted this level of “domestication” thus far.

But a serious student of European history goes further than the current level of xenophobia against Muslims in Europe. In point of fact, Europe has totally shut the door of toleration towards Islam since the Christian Crusades against Muslim expansion, circa 1096. Because the Church was terrified by Islam and its irresistible influence on the hearts and minds of its populations, the Church invented insidious labels against Islam – that it was idolatrous, heretic, pagan, and immoral. It invented all types of false and malicious allegations against the personality of the Noble Prophet Muhammad (May Allah’s Peace and Blessing be upon him and his progeny). I remember clearly a statement by a philosophy of religion professor some years ago expounding that Muslim philosophers suffered from “Mohammedan fatalism”.

Viewed critically, the model of assimilation is designed to lessen the potency of religion and its concrete practice. The following quote is from a paper presented by John Bowen at the Conference of the Europeanists (Chicago March 14-17 2002):

“The Institut National d’Estudes Demographiques (INED) defined ‘assimilation’ as the disappearance of culturally specific features, the convergence of behavior into a general French model, and a mixing of populations (Tribalat 1996:254-55). Assimilation implied the reduction of religion to the private sphere and a lessened intensity of religious practices, ‘in sum, a laicization of behavior’. Specific indices of assimilation used in the report include praying less frequently; not following the fast, abandoning polygamy, and making fewer visits to the country of origin…”

The unequivocal support of the French president for a bill to ban hijab in public schools and workplaces, as well as to prevent Muslim women from asking for women doctors (and males asking for male doctors) are examples of the true meaning of French assimilation.

Stand tall.

The writer is a recent revert to Islam and can be contacted at: drummondhugh@verizon.net

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