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HomeOpinionNewsmaker of the WeekNot just Macron's politics, it's France's brand of secularism that always clashed...

Not just Macron’s politics, it’s France’s brand of secularism that always clashed with Islam

President Emmanuel Macron's vow to defend French laicite from 'Islamist radicalism' goes beyond the tension highlighted by Prophet cartoon beheading.

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From Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan questioning his mental health to his posters pasted on a road in South Mumbai, French President Emmanuel Macron and the French laïcité, or secularism, seem to have come under a massive ire of the Islamic world.

France has always had a difficult relationship with religion and religious bodies since 1905, when it put an end to “recognised religions”. In recent years, controversies around the burqa, Islamic hijab and Sikh turbans have clashed with what many call France’s forceful integration. But the latest spike of tensions began on 2 October, exactly two weeks before the French middle-school history teacher Samuel Paty was killed at a suburb in Paris by a Chechen refugee for showing cartoons of Prophet Muhammad to his students.

On 2 October, President Macron gave a clarion call of sorts to strengthen separation of religion and State in France and thus defending French laicite from “Islamist radicalism.” He said this while calling Islam a religion that was “in crisis all over the world”.

This invited sharp criticism from leaders such as Erdogan and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. Several Muslim-majority countries have since called for boycotting French products. Some stores in Pakistan have even removed sections that sell French goods. Protests have erupted in Bangladesh with tensions rising elsewhere. Soon after the beheading, three people were killed in a knife attack in Nice city on Thursday, prompting Macron to say that “it is France that is under attack.”

This is why France is ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.

Also read: France attacks show Muslims’ self-inflicted paranoia. But Quran allows freedom of expression

The crisis beyond cartoons

The French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo recently republished cartoons, which had led to a terrorist attack on its office in 2015. The cartoons had originally appeared in a Danish newspaper in 2005 before they were printed by the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo the following year. Charlie Hebdo published other drawings of Prophet Muhammad in 2011 and 2012, which resulted in the terrorist attack in which 12 cartoonists were killed.

The latest crisis, once again, spotlights France’s unique model of secularism, and pushes the country to re-articulate its liberal values in a way that lessens its internal tensions – both political and social. It also forces the Muslim community to relook at its identity politics in the West. It didn’t help when the French Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer blamed the country’s Left of being Islamo-Leftism, which he said amounts to ‘intellectual participation’ in terrorism. But at the heart of the argument is the place of Muslim community in the 21st-century Europe, with France and Germany having the largest Muslim population in the region, according to Pew Research Centre.

Also read: Why French President Macron’s clash of civilisations with Islam is misguided

‘Message of peace to the Muslim world’

Macron, whose meteoric rise in France and subsequent win in May 2017 election was hailed by many as the win of liberalism over popularism, said on Thursday that France is being attacked for “our values, our taste for liberty, the possibility on our soil to believe freely” and “we will give up nothing.”

However, many see these rising tensions between France and the Muslim world as the failure of ‘French integration’ model, which is enshrined in the country’s Constitution, and are of the opinion that it needs an overhaul.

For this, one needs to look outside of France and analyse its long history of colonialism, especially in Africa, and Paris’ complicated relationship with that continent. Adding to this, the rising Islamophobia in France has complicated the cosmopolitan fabric of the French society.

France’s long and bloody war in Algeria, which is also known as the Algerian War of Independence or Algerian Revolution, fought between France and the Algerian National Liberation Front from 1954 to 1962.

The impact of that bitter confrontation continues to simmer even today in France.

Macron had called that episode “a crime against humanity” during one of his election campaigns in 2017, which drew sharp criticisms from his opponents. He is the first French president to be born in post-colonial era. 

France continues to maintain a large military base in Djibouti.

Besides, political leaders from Mali, to Rwanda, to Ethiopia have also stood up against France time and again, demanding an apology from the French. Another fact that cannot be ignored about France is that not just Islam, Paris had run into tensions with Jews, Christians, Sikhs and others as well.

If Macron was to be blamed for the recent stir in the Muslim world, then his predecessor Francois Hollande should shoulder equal responsibility, who wrote the following in his book A President Should Not Say That: Secrets of Five Years in Office:

“It’s true there is a problem with Islam … and nobody doubts that. There’s a problem with Islam because Islam demands places (of worship), recognition. It’s not that Islam is a problem because it’s a religion that is in itself dangerous but because it wants to assert itself as a religion on the Republic. What might also be a problem is if Muslims don’t criticise acts of radicalisation, if imams behave in an anti-republican way.”

Also, in 2011 under former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, a ban was imposed by his conservative government on wearing face-covering veils in public. This was later upheld by the European Court of Human Rights in 2014.

Since then, the French society has seen unrest several times over wearing of hijab by Muslim women there.

However, it was the very same Macron who last year spoke against this and urged French people to stop “stigmatising” Muslims and called for understanding of the religion.

Also read: Macron, Erdogan, Imran Khan must respond as leaders, not politicians

Challenges for France going forward

France boasts of a sizeable Muslim population, which also consists of migrants from former French colonies. A 2017 study by the Pew Research Centre states that 8.8 per cent of French population is Muslim and in the coming decades, it is expected to grow.

Macron, thus, will have to now walk the tightrope and follow some of his predecessors who have now become legends of sorts.

It was under former President Jacques Chirac that the French national legislature passed a bill in March 2004, called ‘la Loi 2004-228’, banning wearing of religious symbols in schools.

When Charles De Gaulle became President in 1941, he sought to bring about a paradigm change to the 1905 laws and declared France to be “indivisible, secular, democratic and social republic”.

While India has denounced the personal attack on President Macron, New Delhi believes both counties face “similar non-traditional security threats in the form of radicalism and terrorism and increasingly cyber-security challenges”.

On Friday, foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla, who is visiting France, spoke on the attacks, saying India had “experienced what unbridled radicalism can wreak”, asking the “civilised world… to act together”.

“In some respects, these are linked – not least because online radicalisation has emerged as a pressing concern. Both India and France have suffered. The fight today is not against specific communities or individuals but against a radical politico-religious ideology that attempts to negate the progress made by secular democracies,” Shringla said.

Views are personal.

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  1. Twisting the facts to suit a particular narrative does not change the reality. But, this is how leftists and Islamists are married together; on lies and deceits. Only problem for them is that earlier they could hide their marriage behind the wall due to ignorance of the people. Now, it is exposed badly owing to the probing eyes of the people. Happy exposing your ideology.

  2. Muslims and Islam always clash with one or other religion. In reality, this religion is a problem all over the world

  3. Islam always clashes with one or the other. It’s Islam which is a problem. 🇨🇦🇫🇷🇩🇪🇧🇪

  4. Better to stay in your country instead of going to other country and demanding to change the society according to your belief.
    Integration to the society must be according to the law of the land. Why we should ask people to change the country’s beliefs….
    Nothing wrong to ask for integration as per the social values in any country.
    you missed the touch in this article.

  5. Quran is the primary source of making Muslims non-secular, anti democracy and terrorists. Quran will always remain a pain to rest of the world. World must gather courage to remove the root cause of Islamic terrorism by rewriting Quran. Saudi Arabia should take a lead to reform Islam.

  6. I saw the difference between the articles of Durga puja and Act of terrorism based on a religion lol.Is this lefts way of sucking off to just one religion?They hate Jews,Hindus , Budhists lol

  7. Leave to liberals to trivialize the beheading of a teacher just for teaching his class, not in Pakistan but in France.

  8. I think any country who want to progress must have Freedom of Speech in criticizing public things like religions, figures like prime minister, president, etc..Any violence like damaging public property must be punished so severely that that person doesn’t even think of doing it again! India ranks so low in Press Freedom Index! Still, India is doing good but we can’t imagine things like someone making cartoons like in France, etc that we should do..If we can’t criticise something, then how can that thing can be improved or get attention it deserves, etc..India is so backward, I feel pity for it!, so much illiterates, overpopulation, caste discrimination, religious extremism/fanatics, poor infrastructure, dysfunctional law enforcement, extremely poor waste management, biases, etc..

  9. In the UK they have observed the Muslims are less educated and depends on social welfare they do not have in their countries, they cannot even “espik” english after 30 years, incapable to integrate, unfit for qualified jobs. .The German V P of Bundesbank Dr. Sarrazin said, “the Moslemsa are financially liability, not asset.

  10. France is not wrong, nor is its President Macron. The only mistake the French have done is to encourage immigration freely any Tom, Dick and Harry. This is twenty first century. Manual tasks can be replaced with Robots. The French should take cue and allow immigration only to the meritorious and deserving persons.

    • If Muslims don’t immigrate to west, they would be killed by other Muslims. Muslims are killed by Muslims only. Democracies give them shelter and saves their lives.

  11. Ms. Nayanima Basu once again proves how hollow and fake the commitment of the “liberal” community is to ideals like free speech and secularism. She and others of her ilk would go to any lengths to justify Islamic terror. They would readily stoop to any lows in order to defend the barbaric acts of Islamists.
    How conveniently she placed the blame on a list of French Presidents and French society for the horrors being witnessed there. All the while, absolving the Muslims of all wrongdoing.
    This is the standard template for a Leftist/Marxist liberal. Just see how hurt and indignant Ms. Basu is because the French Education Minister correctly pointed out the nexus between Islamists and Leftists. Throughout nations, the Left has provided the intellectual “defence” for Islamists of all sorts. The Left is primarily responsible for the violence and destruction being wreaked upon secular societies across the world by Islamists.
    This article simply establishes Ms. Basu as another member of the hypocritical liberal Left.

  12. Beheading others if someone makes fun of religion is wrong , such people are terrorist. World politics is going to new low, personal attacks, justifying terrrorism incidents. I am with France.
    If at all, you can bring your own counter cartoons.

    Remember if we come to killings then I don’t think there will be any Islam on the world

  13. This writer is dumb. She just collected few online articles and summarized those. Looks like most of print writers have no depth of knowledge. If any country have freedom of speech there’s is no way to ontrol. Muslims should leave france and go to Somalia.

  14. France has a religion, it is called laicite , a form of radical secularism. It is laicite at any cost! Now there is the sense that France has a problem with Islam.

  15. France’s brand of secularism that always clashed with Islam, if this is true then the next question is “did France invite the Islam to come and clash with her?”
    Possibly France was not as blunt as the PUTIN who said anyone coming to Russia must confirm to our way of life and values because we do not need them they need us.

  16. What point is this article trying to convey?? Islam has issue with most secular countries as the belief system doesn’t fit those countries, they only fit in those countries if those countries change their belief system. So in nutshell host country needs to change but those who immigrate or invade continue as usual.. how is this fair??? Adaptability needs more room from people who migrate or invade , and some adaptability from host country is also required but not as much as those who come to host country. French and British were biggest colonisers and have blood bath history but will that mean they need to change their present values which majority of French identify with? Islam doesn’t allow criticism and so is a closed religion , any reform in Islam is a threat to reformer, anyone who exits this religion is also seen as threat, in such closed environment how can secular nations be happy places for them? Best for people who strongly identify with true tenets of Islam is to move to Sharia or muslim majority countries. They will live happily there and others can also live peacefully.

    • No one would go and behead anyone…You have the right to get annoyed at those cartoons, but u dont have the right to go kill anyone…Do u understand this or not?

  17. Writer is totally clueless. Why does The Print publish an article under Opinion that is nothing more than a collection of excerpts?

    Writer has cited numerous instances of France passing laws enforcing the secular nature of the republic.

    But writer calls that “problematic”. Why it is problematic is never explained.

    I suspect the writer simply does not have the guts to call a spade a spade.

  18. am a bit lost.. is the article saying France is wrong in demanding integration as per its values? – with reference to burqa and turban incidents? the difference being that Osama bin laden came out with a video condemning the burqa ban and making it part of the jihadi agenda, whereas the Sikhs more or less took the turban ban in their stride. I think it’s unfair to migrate to a country and try to impose your way of living on them instead of adapting. That would not be very different from invasion, (cultural) in this instance. Colonialism is a different issue altogether, and condemnable. But does not mean if a nation has got a colonial history, it has to accept a dilution of its values as penalty.

  19. What a funny thing , Liberals , congress , communists, Muslims in India beat their chest and demand Secularism but in France Liberals and Muslims want different definition of Secularism,, which should and must satisfy and appease Muslims and Leftists, what a hypocrisy, but no body dares to talk about any form of secularism in Muslim majority countries!!!

  20. Correction to the title. It should be “it’s islam that tackled with France’s secularism always”. If they don’t want liberty they should not live in a place that is born FOR liberty. Simple.

  21. Muslim want to live freely in France, UK, USA, India etc. But the Muslim majority country never allowed other religions to grow in their country.

    • Yes, very true. They can live freely in The West and constantly want their Religious Rights respected and yet their own Countries of Origin possess a biased attitude towards other Religions. Islamic Radicals should be suppressed by All Muslims as a mark of respect towards maintaining World Peace.

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