mardi 23 septembre 2008

Secularism à la Sarkozy

Some French think that because "laïcité" (secularism) does not have an exact translation in English, the notion does not exist in the rest of the world. We are very much ethnocentered...
But what kind of "laïcité" do we want in France?

The III Republic in France (after the Revolution and Napoleon the III) was afraid of the Catholic Church and its political power. The Church was seen as an obstacle to progress. So in 1905, it was decided that the State and the Church should be separated. Much "water has run under the bridges" since then, but we can say that today the French notion of secularism means that:

1) the State has to remain neutral about religion : no religious discrimination against anyone, no public servant while on duty is allowed to reveal his/her beliefs, no funding of any religion, no public recognition of any religion

2) everyone is free to believe in what he/she wants and to exercise this freedom in a church, a mosque or a synagogue or whatever temple (with some exceptions, no public funds are used to build any of those)

3) pluralism : all religions (big or small) have the right to exist and to express their beliefs, and no discrimination should exist between and towards them

But then, what about sects ? Should we let adults be stripped of all they possess if they are happy believing in a guru doing so ? I'm inclined to let them be. But at the same time, if those adults realize that they were embezzled, then gurus have to give them back what they took from them. The Scientology Church is discovering the harshness of "laïcité" here in France. Because the concept of "freedom of belief" is narrower here than it is in the United States of America. And frankly, the Scientologists deserve to be brought to trial, they have been stealing way too much out of gullible people.

What about "public order" (or "law and order" if you prefer, and by that I mean the minimal legal standard that everyone has to respect in order to live in a society) ? In France, this minimal standard entails that polygamy is forbidden and that you cannot profess that violence against women is righteous or that women are inferior to men. But you have the right to believe it as long as you don't harm anyone and as long as you respect others to believe otherwise.

If we deny this fundamental right, the right of believing what you want, we are heading straight to a Big Brother kind of world. But saying "you have the right to believe in what you want" is not enough. "Laïcité" means that the State, the French Republic, has the duty to proactively protect this right. The State has to fight religious discrimination and also has to allow believers to practice their religion, as long as this practice is reasonable and respects law and order. Here I'm thinking about the Muslim guy who asked for a postponement of his trial because it was a 3-weeks-all-day-long trial that was gonna take place exactly during the period of Ramadan. The Court allowed him to be tried after Ramadan. For me it's the right decision and the Court, doing so, was respecting "laïcité" contrary to what the "good Republicans" here in France were blabbing about.

What about religion and education ? How to protect children and young people from being "brainwashed" and allow them to choose the religion they want, or not to believe in God at all ? Religion or atheism is often a family and private matter though. School should be a place where young people get in contact with other's beliefs, and where they should be able to get a fair knowledge about those beliefs.

I have mixed feelings about the law against the "Islamic scarf" in school. At the beginning I was against it. Then I was in favor because I thought that it was a good way to let young women say to their parents: "I have no option, if I want to go to school, I have to go uncovered, so sorry". Now I dunno anymore...

Last year I went to a conference about discrimination (all kinds of discriminations) and as I was seated I saw a couple of covered women entering the hall and I involuntarily cringed. But then I thought : "I guess those girls would cringe too if they saw me kissing a girl... Who am I to judge them ?" And then one of the covered women started talking. I was shaken : she was a talented orator, she did not believe that she is less than a man but she is a firm believer and to be covered is her way of showing her beliefs, she spoke about how she was victim of discrimination while she was on holidays in France (a hotel owner did not want to let her stay in her establishment because she was covered) and I thought :

"She is covered because we don't respect Muslims in France. We say to them that they are French and are equal to other French people, but in fact we don't hire them, we don't let them into night clubs, we prevent them from living in our neighborhoods, we are always saying that they are violent, ignorant, unworthy of their citizenship, that they are loud and that they stink. Even our present Minister of Justice thought that she was not considered a full French citizen when she was young. So if you are not French, and if you don't belong to any other country in the world because you are born in France, and you live in France, then what are you ? Where do you belong ? You have to have some roots and defend those roots because then you are nothing."
In the end I tend to think that the law against the scarf is a bad law because instead of protecting young Muslim women it only discriminates them even more.

Am I going astray thinking this way ? I mean, I started talking about "secularism", religion and school and now I'm talking about discrimination... What bothers me is that more often than never, when you talk about "laïcité" in France, it's in opposition to Islam : there's the amalgam between Islam and radical Islamism that Sarkozy is the first to create (remember his speech to the French Ambassadors in August 2007), then you have the "scandal" of the annulment of a marriage because the Muslim husband discovered that his Muslim wife had lied to him about being a virgin, and the fact that the highest administrative court (Conseil d'Etat) ruled that it was legal to refuse the French citizenship to a woman who is a radical Muslim and wears a burqa and truly believes that she is inferior to her French Muslim husband, and recently all the fuzz because a criminal trial was postponed to allow a Muslim defendant to do Ramadan (and I have tons of things to say about all those things, but Maître Eolas is far more talented than I am, so you better learn French).

The fact is that every time there's the question of "laïcité", Islam is not very far away. And for me, is a question of discrimination: you are free to believe in what you want, but if you are a Muslim (understood "an Arab") then you have to be careful to never let show your beliefs, which is difficult when you're supposed to be Muslim because your name is Mohamed...

Now our dear President Sarkozy is talking about a "positive secularism" following the lead of Pope Benedict XVI (not the other way around as the press presents it). And this is making me more than cringe: it is positively scaring the bejesus out of me. Because I don't think that Sarko wants to protect my right to believe in whatever the heck pleases me. His ideology (if he has ever got one), or at least his attitude, is not of the tolerant kind.

His speech on the 20th December 2007 for his first meeting with Pope Benedict XVI started by adding to the notion of "laïcité": "the right not to be hurt in one's conscience by ostentatious practices". This is clearly aimed at Muslims since the only ostentatious practice that has ever been banned in France is wearing the Muslim scarf at school. For example, the fact that in the summer of 2007 a group of prisoners was used (based on their voluntary will) to carry a huge cross to the top of a hill to erect it there, was not considered "ostentatious". Oh but, that is totally normal since, as the President said himself :
"Laïcité has not got the power to cut France from it's Christian roots. It tried to do it. It should not had tried. As Benedict XVI, I think that a nation who ignores the ethical, spiritual, religious heritage of its History commits a crime against its culture, against that mix of history, of patrimony, of art and popular traditions that impregnates so deeply our way of life and of thinking. To uproot is to loose the meaning, is to weaken the foundation of national identity, is to dry up even more social relations who need so much symbols of memory."
And he goes on saying that we have to acknowledge and to value the Christian roots of France and that the Republic is better off when there is an ethical thinking inspired on religious beliefs because secularism in the end tends to be too much materialistic, too spiritually dry, because secular ethics do not tend to an aspiration of Infinity. In other words, non-believers have no other horizon than their death so they cannot think about the future... I'm insulted !

He also stated that :
"in the transmission of values and in the teaching of the difference between good and evil, the teacher will never replace the priest or the pastor because he/she will always lack the radicality of the sacrifice of his/her life and the charisma of a commitment carried by hope"
Now I feel insulted in the name of my friends who are teachers and, believe you me, who have radically sacrificed their lives as much as a priest of pastor would, and who possess the charisma of a commitment carried by their hope of a better human kind. Notice also that the President, who is so respectful of diversity and the pluralism of religious beliefs, does not mention either "imam" or "rabbi" in his speech... Okey, he was speaking in front of a public of cardinals, but still: he knew that his speech was going to be broadcast for all French to watch. By the way, if by "sacrifice of his life" Sarko refers to the fact that priests have vowed to never ever have sex and a family, I would not myself value so much such a nonsense.

He finishes giving his definition of "positive secularism" : a "laïcité" that does not consider religions as a danger but rather as an asset.

I agree that it's important to value our roots, and that's is why I'm worried about the law against the hijab (or Muslim scarf). I also think that religions are, sometimes, an asset. I also value very much my Christian roots. I believe that my ethics are founded on the Catholic tradition of my family, even if my parents are non-believers. In Latin America, the Theology of Liberation was the most positive movement the Catholic church has produced in all its history and a lot of Christians were touched by this movement around the world. I also think that all sorts of religious beliefs have helped humans to progress in different parts of the world and throughout History.

I wish I had a better knowledge of other religions, but it is true that a lot of harm has been made in the name of God. And that's exactly why I criticize Sarkozy's "positive secularism", because in the name of God, and more specifically, in the name of Christ, he wants the French republic to tighten up its ties with our so-called traditions (as though Judaism and Islam were not part of our European traditions) in order to build a fortress against the Others, the Barbarians, in other words, the Muslims. His views against Turkey being part of Europe are founded on this "ideology" that is also championed by Pope Benedict XVI.

What they seem to forget is that to exclude is not a Christian tradition.

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