After years of brutal attacks by Muslims who were radicalized on the periphery of French society, the government was finally fed up. Earlier this month, Macron unveiled his long-awaited plan: reforming the practice of Islam in France. The proposals will limit the funds that Muslim communities receive from abroad, supposedly to limit foreign influence, and create a program to certify trained French imams, among other things. Patty’s murder made the matter much more urgent. The French Interior Ministry added last week that officials would focus on the potential disbandment of more than 50 French Muslim associations if they are found to be promoting hatred, including a major group dedicated to fighting Islamophobia. Macron wants to build “Islam in France, which can be the Islam of the Enlightenment,”
The goal, backed by popular sentiment, seems reasonable: to protect the French from further attacks. “What we have to fight for is Islamist separatism,” Macron said. But the method seems designed to solve a different problem from terrorist violence. Instead of tackling the alienation of French Muslims, especially in suburban ghettos or banlieuts – which experts agree is the main reason leaving some susceptible to radicalization and violence – the government aims to influence the practice of the 1,400-year-old faith. , one with nearly 2 billion peacekeepers worldwide, including tens of millions in the West. This is a strange answer to the problem (although it reflects the way Napoleon regulated the practice of Judaism). But this is perhaps the only thing France can consider in a universe where it will not commit itself to measuring the systemic discrimination that feeds so much of the “separatism” it seeks to fight.
The French Republic is frankly secular or secular. Enshrined in a 1905 law, this notion forces the state to remain neutral – neither to support nor to condemn any religion. In the United States, a religious pluralistic society, the separation of church and state is seen as the freedom to choose a religious faith. In France, historically dominated by Catholicism, it is largely understood as freedom from oppressive religious authority. But this clear and seemingly consistent vision of secularism is the product of a significantly different time, when the country was far more culturally and ethnically homogeneous than it is today. At the turn of the century, it was predominantly Catholic, with a small Protestant minority and even less a Jewish population. The collapse of the French Empire after World War II meant that the capital, France, soon became home to many former colonial subjects and their descendants from North Africa, West Africa, the Caribbean and South Asia. Islam had officially arrived.
With these changes, a new interpretation of the leitmotif gradually emerged, which often positions the country against the public manifestations of Islam and which has no basis in law. After France’s humiliating defeat in Algeria in 1962 – a trauma that remains largely untreated – French citizens began to perceive public traces of Islam as aggression against the country’s secular nature, even if the country still closed to business every major Catholic holiday.
The veil and the place where it can be worn has become one of the busiest issues in public life. The French often see criticism of its use as a means of freeing their fellow citizens from religious oppression. A law passed in 2004 banned the wearing of the veil in high schools, and a 2010 law banned the covering of the face with burqas for reasons of national security. When Muslim women wear headscarves in public, they often come under fire, even when they do so legally and even when they try to be part of French society. Last year, for example, then-Health Minister Agnes Buzin condemned a runner’s hijab marketed by French sportswear brand Decathlon for the “communitarian” threat it clearly posed to France’s secular universalism. “I would prefer a French brand not to promote the veil,” she said. Similarly, Jean-Michel Blanker, the French education minister, acknowledged that while it is technically legal for mothers to wear headscarves, he wants to avoid accompanying them “as much as possible”. These were examples of Muslim women trying to participate in public life instead of withdrawing from it; however, they were convicted.
The result of this vitriol and the prejudice among some white French, especially on the right, is that many French Muslims live in something like “anti-society,” Macron’s fears withdrawn from the mass current, a position not everyone has chosen. Conservative commentators are not mistaken in calling some of the banelles that surround Paris, Lyon and Marseilles “territories lost to the Republic,” according to historian Georges Bensusan. These communities often abound in radical interpretations of Islam, anti-Semitism, and gang activity, which together can incubate terrorist violence.
But the question is why these territories are lost. One of the explanations is structural. Descendants of immigrants living in crowded housing projects often struggle to achieve the social mobility promised by the officially blinding color republic. Job applications and certain housing options may still require photos, and colored people are often overlooked due to unconscious (or even intentional) bias. When minorities, and especially Muslims, express opinions critical of the dogma of the establishment, the French press often accuses them of complicity in terrorism. In a televised debate Wednesday, for example, author Pascal Bruckner said renowned journalist Rokhaya Diallo – whom he identifies as a “Muslim and black woman” – sparked the 2015 attack on Charlie Hebdo because she once signed an open letter against the paper.
Yet, despite the public scrutiny that Muslims face here, it can be extremely difficult to prove discrimination. Since 1978, French law has largely prohibited the collection (even by private or academic social scientists) of statistics on race, religion, or ethnicity, mainly in response to World War II, when the classification of Jewish citizens in the country facilitated their rounding and deport them. But banning race has not banned racism, and without an empirical basis it can be difficult to prove where differences exist and to what extent – let alone how to eliminate them.
All this contributes to the phenomenon of “separatism” in the French Muslim community, says French-Tunisian scholar Hakim El Carui, author of “L’islam une religion française”, a popular book from 2018, which influenced Macron’s project to reform Islam. . Especially among third-generation immigrants, “there is an important minority that has this identity problem that doesn’t feel French – either because they have been rejected or because they have no desire,” he said. “Islam fills this void.” The radical and violent version practiced by the attackers over the past eight years is just the end of what is thought to be just under 10 percent of France’s population. But it is enough to endanger public safety.
The problem, then, is not Macron’s understandable desire to deal with the real threat. And his proposed law could block the most toxic strains of foreign sermons from reaching French worshipers and could limit the spread of hatred on social media, two factors thought to have animated Patty’s killer. But these issues are in close proximity to the problem of isolation and anomie that the country has helped to promote – intentionally in some cases, unintentionally in others. The truth is that the counter-society has as much to do with France as it does with Islam.
The harsh anger caused by Patty’s murder leaves little room for thought. Most French politicians have doubled their firm interpretation of French secularism. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin appeared on national television, describing ethnic food in supermarkets as a “communitarian kitchen” that encouraged the separatist sentiments that led to the attack. Days after Patty’s assassination, two assailants stabbed two Muslim women in headscarves and called them “dirty Arabs” as they walked near the Eiffel Tower. “There is a hysterical climate,” said Rashid Benzin, a French political scientist.
A man who did not share an exclusive vision of secularism was Samuel Patti, who was sensitive to the potential fears of his Muslim students and suggested that anyone in his class who might be offended by Mohammed’s cartoons look away. He was clearly fascinated by Muslim culture, enrolling in training courses at the Paris Institute for the Arab World and organizing an Arabic music concert for the benefit of his students. But these aspects of Patty as the “face of the republic” seem to have been forgotten. He was a victim of inexpressible barbarism, but he could be a martyr for someone else’s cause.