France Fast-Tracks Citizenship for Frontline Workers

Broader in scope than Canadian measures. Something for Canadian policy makers and politicians to consider:

Nine months after its president declared “war” against the coronavirus, France announced Tuesday that it has fast-tracked hundreds of citizenship applications from foreign frontline workers who have distinguished themselves in the battle.

“Foreign workers gave their time and swung into action for all of us during the Covid crisis,” said Marlène Schiappa, France’s junior minister for citizenship. “It is now up to the Republic to take a step toward them.”

The beneficiaries include not just health care workers but also garbage collectors, housekeepers and cashiers, Ms. Schiappa said.

The fast-tracking measure is a notable departure for a country that has adopted increasingly tight immigration rules. Caught in the clog of paperwork, citizenship applications can take years to complete, and the number of naturalizations has been decreasing over the years.

Some 48,000 people acquired French nationality through naturalization last year, or about 18 percent fewer than in 2015, according to statistics from the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies.

France’s Treatment of Its Muslim Citizens Is the True Measure of Its Republican Values

Good analysis and commentary:

Since the 2015 terrorist attacks against the staff of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, France has faced a succession of such attacks by Muslim extremists, the most recent of which saw the October beheading of teacher Samuel Paty and the murder of three people at Notre Dame Basilica in Nice. The country has been left grappling with the question of why it has become such a target and how it ought to respond.

For President Macron, France is being targeted by terrorists because of its “freedom of expression, right to believe, or not, and its way of life.” He claims that a form of “Islamist separatism” has found find fertile ground for its ideals in some parts of the country – and to counter this, Macron announced his plan to create a “French Islam,” a practice of the faith which will be regulated by the state. For over four decades successive French presidents have sought to manage the state’s relationship with an ethnically and religiously diverse Muslim community, adherents of a faith without a formal leadership structure which might provide an obvious intermediary. All to little avail. State appointed leaders have struggled to gain community recognition, while attempts, like Macron’s, to delineate to Muslims the terms of their beliefs are unlikely to be well received. Not to mention the apparent irony of a secular leader defining terms of religious practice.

In France, the concept of laïcité(secularism) enjoins a strict delineation between the state and the private sphere of personal beliefs. Designed in origin to protect individuals from state intrusion, and the state from religious influence, it has in recent years been increasingly wielded to do the opposite: encroaching evermore into the private sphere of Muslim citizens: from dress codes, to dietary needs, via religious education, the state has sought to prohibit each of these in recent years, only to be confronted by the strength of a Republican framework which has ultimately seen courts uphold its principles.

While the president has been adamant that the problem isn’t Islam, but a rejection of Republican principles, his government’s rhetorical and political focus has caused many to feel otherwise. From incessant debates about the headscarf, to polemics around women only swimming class to the Interior Minister feigning shock at ‘ethnic aisles’ in supermarkets, mundane habits of Muslim life are touted as examples of a “separatism” the state links to terrorism.

In a report last year entitled “Discrimination Against Muslims: The State Must React”, Amnesty International denounced “hostile climate and discriminatory discourse” towards Muslims, highlighting a speech by the Interior Minister in which he listed very basic religious freedoms including praying, fasting and growing a beard as “signs of radicalization.” One man whose mosque was raided under the legacy of the post-2015 state of emergency legislation is quoted as saying “the worst part is, if they have real concerns, they would launch an enquiry, but like this, it just feels like they are punishing us for nothing.” In a climate of fear and where the far-right party of Marine Le Pen’s ideas have come to define the terms of public discourse around Islam and Muslims, the government’s unwillingness to distinguish normal forms of religious practice from forms of extremism leaves millions of French Muslims open to accusations of extremism.

Recent measures are being justified on the basis that sections of the Muslim community are in conflict with republican values, but there is little evidence of this. In fact, in the largest quantitative study of the relationship between terrorism and discrimination in France, researchers from the Centre for the Study of Conflict in Paris unearthed the exact opposite. They found that overall Muslims deeply trust the institutions of the Republic, more so even than the control group, aside from the media and the police: ”What emerges from the study looks more like a massive adherence of French Muslims to the Republic.”

Crucially, the study found that trust in the institutions of France diminished with only one factor: experiences of discrimination, something it predicts the latest measures are likely to exacerbate. The study concludes by saying “there is no rejection of the values and institutions of the Republic in France, by a majority of Muslims.”

The concern is that discrimination against Muslims in France is already prevalent in every sector, from housing to employment and interactions with the police. According to the government’s own figures, 42% of Muslims (other studies put the figure at 58%) declare having experienced discrimination due to their religion, a figure which rises to 60% among women who wear a headscarf. A recent YouGov survey found that 67% of French Arab Muslims believe their faith is perceived negatively, while 64% said the same of their ethnicity.

For many, the creeping authoritarianism which sees the minutia of Muslim life problematized and debated for prime time TV shows, is indicative of a worrying political instrumentalization of racism. Since 2015, and following the “state of emergency” which ended in 2017, the French parliament has approved exceptional measures which have led to thousands of abusive and discriminatory raids and house arrest disproportionately targeting Muslims. The signs of authoritarianism begin at the margins – but rarely do they end there.

In the wake of the recent attacks, two deeply controversial bills have been advanced by President Macron. The “global security” bill has been met by mass protests across France. Among its most contentious clauses are that it would allow the use of surveillance drones, as well as lead to a possible prison term and 45,000 euro fine for anyone showing images which could identify a police or army officer. The government claims that social and mainstream media exposure of police violence endangers individual police officers, with Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin explaining: “Society’s cancer is the disrespect of authority.” But journalists across France have been sounding the alarm, while the spokesman for the E.U. Commission, said: “In a crisis period it is more important than ever that journalists should be able to do their work freely and in full security.”

Just as the bill was being debated, footage emerged of a black French music producer, Michel Zecler, being brutally beaten by four police officers in his studio in Paris, in what campaigners say is simply the latest example of endemic police brutality. The new bill would criminalize the person filming the police officer. Along with human rights groups, journalists and academics, UN experts have called on France to review the entire bill, stating: “it will have serious implications for the right to private life, the right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression” and rejecting the concession of minor amendments.

The new law on “Republican principles” is also causing widespread concern. Among its more worrying clauses are that anyone convicted of “apologie of terrorism”- a thought crime the numbers of which have exploded since 2015, and which has seen children as young as 10 taken into police custody – would automatically be added to a terrorism watch list. In just over a month, 270 new cases have been opened.

Since Samuel Paty’s murder in October, France has flagged over 400 violations of the homage to the slain teacher, of which 150 are considered “apologia for terrorism,” and over 50% of which occurred within a school environment.

France’s interior minister has ordered investigations into 76 mosques “suspected of separatism” which now face potential closure, in a country where prayer space is already very limited, with only 2,623 mosques and prayers halls in France for an estimated 5.7m Muslims. At least 73 mosques and Islamic private schools across France have been closed by authorities since January on grounds of ‘extremism’, but as Amnesty makes clear ‘radicalization’ has often been used as a euphemism for ‘devout Muslim’.

The proposed new law will include much tighter controls over civil society, including and specifically, Muslim religious organizations and leadership which will be required to conform to a “Republican charter” – a veritable modern day patriotism test imposed on a suspect community. The state’s red lines for Muslim are “political Islam” and foreign funding, which has historically – and with full support from the state – provided French Muslim citizens with their religious institutions. Imams will have to be trained through a state sanctioned body which will ensure their conformity with the state’s version of laicity, itself increasingly contested by the quango created to monitor it.

Crucially, the space we call freedom, where civil society, religious or otherwise, is able to organize according to their ideals, principles and values, as long as these do not infringe the law – is shrinking. Particularly once again for Muslims. In recent weeks, several Muslim organisations, including France’s largest anti-islamophobia organization (CCIF) have been dissolved by government decree, on grounds denounced by Amnesty international and an array of public figures and organizations, which have called for a reversal of the decision dubbed “extreme”: “Amnesty international is extremely concerned about the signal that this sends to NGOs and the fight against discrimination in France.”

These proposed laws and the rafts of measures justified by counter-terrorism are profoundly eroding basic freedoms in France: freedom of speech, of association, of thought. In seeking to eradicate the space for oppositional thinking in the name of upholding “republican principles”, France is betraying itself.

France’s Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti told the press “too many people (…) are using the law of 1881 which protects freedom of expression to express views in conflict with the values of the Republic.” Yet if freedom means anything, it means the right to express views which are indeed in conflict with the state – including its claims to a monopoly on the meaning of Republican principles. Many people might call this popular counter power the very basis of democracy.

Instead, the space for oppositional views is shrinking rapidly. Macron’s education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, branded academics critical of the government’s approach, “islamo-leftists”intellectually complicit” in terrorism for importing “indigenist, racialist, and decolonial ideologies,” which he claimed were responsible for ‘conditioning’ violent extremism. The accusation that academics who question the official narrative could be providing the fodder for terrorism led to the tabling of a law on university research, since approved by the Senate, that redefines and limits research to being “exercised with respect for the values of the Republic” – read, state sanctioned.

Just as President Macron champions France as the beacon of free speech and democracy, his government is involved in undermining – and seeking to undermine – some of the Republic’s most cherished principles, starting with freedom of the press.

President Macron is playing a dangerous double game – abroad, he plays on linguistic and cultural differences to play down serious concerns expressed by his own citizens in foreign publications, going so far as to contact the New York Timesaccusing the English-language media of “legitimizing this violence”, presumably by running stories he doesn’t approve of. A critical op-ed in the Financial Times was removed and replaced by one penned by the President himself in what many speculated was just the latest incident of political pressure being places on journalists to retract critical views. Meanwhile Reporters without Borders have tracked a disturbing increase in judicial harassment of investigative reporters, as well as concerns related to editorial independence.

There are many ways to shut down free speech, including by making the truth unsayable.

Days after the murder of Samuel Paty, France’s youth minister cut short a previously scheduled meeting with students to discuss religion because she was uncomfortable with the concerns being expressed around prejudice and islamophobia. We all know free speech is never absolute, it certainly isn’t in France where laws already regulate hate speech. But young people are not naïve. They can spot the hypocrisy of politicians who lecture them about free speech when it comes to accepting deeply disturbing caricatures, but won’t listen to their concerns around discrimination.

The state of free speech isn’t measured at the Elysée pulpit. It can be measured in the silencing of those who resist the government’s narrative over who is the blame for France’s long list of woes. But more broadly, the state of a nation’s freedoms can always be assessed at the margins. The specter of terrorism is a useful ploy to dismiss the increasingly punitive measures faced by French Muslims – but the delusion is to believe that their loss of freedom isn’t a loss of freedom for us all.

Terrorists will seek to aggrandize their limited reach, turning a knife attack into an internationally recognized “act of war” through symbolic targets and gory violence. But we could do with some perspective – over 3,000 people a year die in road accidents in France. Over 300 are dying a day of COVID. Since 2012, 260 peoplehave died in terrorists attacks in France. Does the specter of terrorism truly warrant a profound undoing of democratic principles that people fought and died for?

We can view terrorism as an attack on our “values”– or we can reject this narrative. Our values aren’t threatened by these attacks, they are threatened by our response to them. It’s now urgent our leaders are held to the Republican ideals they claim to represent.

Source: France’s Treatment of Its Muslim Citizens Is the True Measure of Its Republican Values

Aykol: France and Macron Aren’t Helping Solve Islam’s Crisis. They’re Strengthening Extremists Instead.

Good thoughtful commentary:

“Islam is a religion that is in crisis all over the world today.” That is what the French President Emmanuel Macron said on Oct. 2, while announcing his “anti-radicalism plan.” Just two weeks later, on Oct. 16, a devotee of that radicalism killed and beheaded a high-school teacher, Samuel Paty, in a Paris suburb, merely for showing the infamous cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in his classroom. And soon after, three worshippers at a church in Nice were savagely murdered by another terrorist who seemed to have the same motivation: to punish blasphemy against the prophet of Islam.

In return, the French authorities initiated a crackdown on anything they deemed to be Islamism, and also projected the controversial cartoons of Prophet Muhammad on government buildings in France—only to provoke mass protests in various parts of the Muslim world.

Macron is doing little to resolve this crisis and could actually be inflaming it, because the sort of freedom he claims to defend is full of painful shortcomings and cynical double standards.

All these events have initiated an ongoing debate about France, Islam, and freedom. Some in the West now see France as the beacon of Enlightenment values against the dark forces of religious fanaticism. Others argue that the main problem is Islamophobia, racism and the colonial arrogance of France in a world where—except for a handful of extremists—Muslims are the real victims.

As a Muslim who has been writing about these issues for about two decades, let me offer a more nuanced view: First, France—like any target of terrorism—deserves sympathy for its fallen and solidarity against the threat. Moreover, Macron is largely correct that Islam is facing a “crisis”—not “all over world,” but certainly in some parts of the world—and we Muslims need an honest conversation about that. Unfortunately, Macron is doing little to resolve this crisis and could actually be inflaming it, because the sort of freedom he claims to defend is full of painful shortcomings and cynical double standards.

Many Muslims would find any talk of Islam facing a crisis unacceptable, if not heretical, for they think of Islam as a divinely ordained, perfect, and eternal truth. Yet one can well believe in the divine core of Islam, as I do, while being critical of the many layers of human interpretation built on top of that. It is this human interpretation that gave us much of the Islamic fiqh, or jurisprudence, which has some harsh verdicts that conflict with what the modern world calls human rights and civil liberties—the notions that people should be free to believe or disbelieve in a religion, and free to evangelize or criticize it.

Let’s take the burning issue at hand: What should Muslims do in the face of blasphemy against the Prophet—or sabb al-rasul, as medieval jurists called it. They all agreed it should be severely punished. According to mainline Shafi and Maliki jurists, the blasphemer would be executed immediately, unless he or she repented. According to the stricter Hanbalis, the blasphemer would be executed even if he or she repented. And according to the milder Hanafis, there was no clear ground for execution, but the blasphemer could be jailed and beaten with sticks.

None of these verdicts had any basis in the Quran—like most similar verdicts in Islamic jurisprudence—but jurists inferred them from some targeted killings that reportedly took place during the Prophet’s battles with the polytheists of his time.

What is less noticed is that medieval Muslim jurists reasoned according to the norms of their time, where the concept of free speech simply didn’t exist. Indeed, their Christian contemporaries weren’t any more lenient to blasphemers or heretics. The Byzantine Empire, under the Justinian Laws of the 6th century, declared, “Men shall not … blaspheme God,” and gave the death penalty for those who did. Later, in Europe, the Catholic Inquisition took blasphemy law a step further by making this capital punishment just more painful with new techniques like auto-da-fé, or burning people alive at the stake.

We Muslims need this reform not to please Westerners, but to save our own societies from the sectarianism, bigotry, misogyny, and oppression that is being justified in the name of Islam

Yet Christianity has changed immensely in the past four centuries—first with the lessons taken from the horrific Thirty Years’ War (1618-48), and then new ideas of tolerance advocated by Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke. Debates on freedom among Catholics continued well into the 20th century, but ultimately all mainline Christians gave up coercive power in the name of their faith.

However, the same transformation hasn’t yet fully taken place in Islam—and that lies at the core of the crisis, that not just Macron but also critical Muslims are talking about. Medieval Islamic jurisprudence is still there, with some violent and coercive verdicts unrefuted by most contemporary religious scholars. Most Muslims are not interested in these verdicts, let alone eager to implement them, but some are. Their zealotry, in the extreme, leads to vigilante violence and terrorism. In the mainstream, it leads to blasphemy laws that are in place in many Muslim-majority states—Pakistan being one of the most ferocious.

A fairly conservative but thoughtful American Muslim, Yasir Qadi, a popular preacher and a dean at the Al-Maghrib Institute, recently admitted this problem in an interesting post “on the French terrorist attack.” Most mainstream Muslim authorities condemn such terrorist attacks, he noted, but “don’t directly address the fiqh [jurisprudence] texts involved.” Especially on the issue of blasphemy, he added, “There are texts and fiqh issues that need to be discussed frankly—hardly anyone has done that (still!).”

Having such frank discussions on Islamic jurisprudence—and the underlying theological assumptions—could open Islam’s path toward its own authentic Enlightenment, the gist of which should be giving up coercive power in the name of the faith. We Muslims need this reform not to please Westerners, but to save our own societies from the sectarianism, bigotry, misogyny, and oppression that is being justified in the name of Islam, and to better reflect the true values of our faith.

In other words, Islam needs its own Enlightenment, but Macron is advocating the wrong sort of Enlightenment. And that’s a problem deeply rooted in France’s own history.

It is worth recalling that the Enlightenment was not a monolithic movement. As the late great historian Gertrude Himmelfarb explained in Roads to Modernity: The British, French, and American Enlightenments, there was rather a clear distinction between the French and the Anglo-Saxon paths: In France, Enlightenment often implied a combat between faith and reason. In Britain and America, it often implied a harmony of them. Therefore, the French path has been much more assertive, anti-clerical, and also bloody. The French Revolution, lest we forget, was an extremely violent affair, where hundreds of priests were killed—often by beheading—and the Church’s dominance of the public square was replaced, not by neutrality, but an alternative religion called the Cult of Reason.

Having subdued Catholicism long ago with this aggressive Enlightenment, France seems to be reviving it against Islam, especially under the banner of laïcité, its unmistakably illiberal form of secularism.

The French often say foreigners don’t understand laïcité. I do—because my country, Turkey, imitated the French model for almost a century.

The French often say foreigners don’t understand laïcité. I do—because my country, Turkey, imitated the French model for almost a century.

The main problem of this specific form of secularism is its reliance on preemptive intolerance; assuming that religion and its symbols might become oppressive if they are visible, laïcité suppresses them in the first place. The result of such policies is often a simmering grudge among the religious, and ultimately a backlash, if not revenge—which is precisely how Turkey got its great Islamic avenger, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Although Macron says the target of laïcité is not Islam, but only “Islamism,” the latter term is left quite vague in his rhetoric. In practice, it’s not vague at all. In France it has long been obvious that personal Muslim practices are targeted: For many years, Muslim women in France have been banned from wearing headscarves in public buildings, or so-called burkinis on beaches. Last September, a French politician from Macron’s party protested a young French Muslim woman for merely walking into the National Assembly while wearing a headscarf. And, in October, the French interior minister even took issue with halal food aisles in supermarkets—and kosher ones, too, signaling a threat to the religious freedom of just not Muslims, but other practicing believers as well.

In other words, what France requires from its Muslims is not just accepting the freedom of speech of blasphemers, but also giving up a part of their own freedom of religion. This is not only wrong in principle, but also myopic and counterproductive. It just makes it harder for practicing French Muslims to feel respected, accepted, and therefore fully French—precisely the sort of integration radical Islamists would like to avert.

Source: France and Macron Aren’t Helping Solve Islam’s Crisis. They’re Strengthening Extremists Instead.

Erna Paris: A rigid belief in freedom is driving France and the U.S. to tragedy

Complements the NYTimes interview (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/15/business/media/macron-france-terrorism-american-islam.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage):

When my children were young, derisive “Newfie” jokes were all the rage. I didn’t allow them in my house; I’d lived in France as a student and learned enough about pre-war history to know that plural societies can exist peacefully only within an ethos of mutual respect.

Which is why both France and the United States have evolved into tragic political entities. Both their foundational ideologies are dangerously anachronistic.

Take the recent atrocities in France following the conduct of a teacher who pulled out the same caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed that provoked major violence in the past. There is no possible excuse for his monstrous medieval-style murder, or for the others that occurred after. But to understand circumstance is neither to assign blame nor to condone violence, a fact historians must constantly emphasize. That France houses almost six million Muslims, the largest population in the West, makes it critical to understand the impact of the Prophet Mohammed caricatures in that country.

The contemporary world will remain a mix of ethnicities and religions as migrations increasingly reshape societies, but when it comes to pluralism, France has a twofold problem. First is its commitment to rigid secularism – a foundational ideology that dates back to the French Revolution of 1789. Second is an absolutist view of free speech that is detrimental to society.

French secularism, which mandates that the public sphere be religiously homogeneous or “neutral,” effectively nullifies one’s right to be accepted for who one is. If you wear a hijab, for example, you cannot be a teacher of children, among other public professions. Your religious obligation to dress in certain ways may “offend” the majority. If you do follow your spiritual beliefs, you will be considered an unassimilated “other” – a second-rate faux citizen who rejects the values of the French Republic.

Complicating this problematic ideology is the aggressive abuse of free speech – a foundation of democracy – to incite social tensions. A teacher who relies on unfettered free speech to teach about Islam through ugly caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed is being knowingly provocative, especially when he facetiously suggests that anyone who might be offended leave the room. This is not an innocent moment. Let us imagine Berlin in 1934, for example. Hitler is in power, but Jewish children still attend school. In the name of free speech and high-level permission, the teacher pulls out examples of Julius Streicher’s caricatures of Jews and suggests that anyone who might be offended leave the room. Such scenarios risk toxic consequences.

There are limits to free speech, as we acknowledge in Canada. In 1990, in the case of James Keegstra, an Alberta teacher who propagated anti-Semitism in his classroom, the Supreme Court upheld the Criminal Code provision prohibiting the wilful promotion of hatred against an identifiable group. And for good reason. Plural societies are inherently fragile.

Like the French, many Americans hold rigid commitments to absolute free speech – and to freedom in general. But it is precisely this foundational ideology of libertarian freedom that is propelling what was the world’s most admired nation into tragedy.

The trigger has been COVID-19 and the politicization of mask-wearing. In a recent study at Stanford University that quantified infections stemming from Donald Trump’s maskless campaign rallies, it was estimated that there were at least 30,000 coronavirus infections and 700 deaths as a result of 18 rallies the President held between June and September.

American “rugged individualism” was first popularized by Herbert Hoover in 1928 when he compared his compatriots to a European philosophy of “paternalism and state socialism,” but the ideology can likely be traced back to the 1776 War of Independence from the British, followed by the cowboy ethos of opening up the West, coupled with a distrust of government oversight. But the downside of libertarian freedom has been a lack of commitment to the public good.

Foreheads furrowed when former San Francisco baseball hero, Aubrey Huff, announced in June that he would “rather die from the coronavirus than wear a damn mask,” and in May when a guard in a store in Flint, Mich., was shot dead after telling a woman that her child had to wear a mask. Both these events expose the tragedy of freedom paired with a weak concept of commonality.

In Canada, our national narrative has shifted over the past century from xenophobia to multiculturalism. How fortunate we are. Sadly, rigid foundational ideologies are likely to continue to threaten social peace as the 21st century progresses.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-a-rigid-belief-in-freedom-is-driving-france-and-the-us-to-tragedy/

The French President vs. the American Media

Of note along with Erna Paris’ critique (A rigid belief in freedom is driving France and the U.S. to tragedy). Universalism is a convenient way to avoid addressing systemic issues and discrimination:

The president has some bones to pick with the American media: about our “bias,” our obsession with racism, our views on terrorism, our reluctance to express solidarity, even for a moment, with his embattled republic.

So President Emmanuel Macron of France called me on Thursday afternoon from his gilded office in the Élysée Palace to drive home a complaint. He argued that the Anglo-American press, as it’s often referred to in his country, has blamed France instead of those who committed a spate of murderous terrorist attacks that began with the beheading on Oct. 16 of a teacher, Samuel Paty, who, in a lesson on free speech, had shown his class cartoons from the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo mocking the Prophet Muhammad.

“When France was attacked five years ago, every nation in the world supported us,” President Macron said, recalling Nov. 13, 2015, when 130 people were killed in coordinated attacks at a concert hall, outside a soccer stadium and in cafes in and around Paris.

“So when I see, in that context, several newspapers which I believe are from countries that share our values — journalists who write in a country that is the heir to the Enlightenment and the French Revolution — when I see them legitimizing this violence, and saying that the heart of the problem is that France is racist and Islamophobic, then I say the founding principles have been lost.”

Legitimizing violence — that’s as serious a charge as you can make against the media, and the sort of thing we’ve been more used to hearing, and shrugging off, from the American president. And Americans, understandably distracted by the hallucinatory final days of the Trump presidency, may have missed the intensifying conflict between the French elite and the English-language media.

More than 250 people have died in terror attacks in France since 2015, the most in any Western country. Mr. Macron, a centrist modernizer who has been a bulwark against Europe’s Trumpian right-wing populism, said the English-language — and particularly, American — media were imposing their own values on a different society.

In particular, he argued that the foreign media failed to understand “laïcité,” which translates as “secularism” — an active separation of church and state dating back to the early 20th century, when the state wrested control of the school system from the Catholic Church. The subject has become an increasing focus this year, with the approach of the 2022 election in which Mr. Macron appears likely to face the far-right leader Marine Le Pen. Mr. Macron didn’t initially campaign on changing the country’s approach to its Muslim minority, but in a major speech in early October denouncing “Islamist separatism,” he promised action against everything from the foreign training of imams to “imposing menus that accommodate religious restrictions in cafeterias.” He also called for remaking the religion itself into “an Islam of the Enlightenment.” His tough-talking interior minister, meanwhile, is using the inflammatory language of the far right.

When Mr. Paty was murdered, Mr. Macron responded with a crackdown on Muslims accused of extremism, carrying out dozens of raids and vowing to shut down aid groups. He also made a vocal recommitment to secularism. Muslim leaders around the world criticized Mr. Macron’s and his aides’ aggressive response, which they said focused on peaceful Muslim groups. The president of Turkey called for boycotts of French products, as varied as cheese and cosmetics. The next month saw a new wave of attacks, including three murders in a Nice church and an explosion at a French ceremony in Saudi Arabia.

Some French grievances with the U.S. media are familiar from the U.S. culture wars — complaints about short-lived headlines and glib tweets by journalists. But their larger claim is that, after the attacks, English and American outlets immediately focused on failures in France’s policy toward Muslims rather than on the global terror threat. Mr. Macron was particularly enraged by a Financial Times opinion article on Nov. 3, “Macron’s war on Islamic separatism only divides France further,” which argued that he was alienating a Muslim majority that also hates terrorism. The article said he was attacking “Islamic separatism” when, in fact, he had used the word “Islamist.” Mr. Macron’s critics say he conflates religious observance and extremism, and the high-profile misquote — of his attempt to distinguish between the religion of Islam and the ideology of Islamism — infuriated him.

“I hate being pictured with words which are not mine,” Mr. Macron told me, and after a wave of complaints from readers and an angry call from Mr. Macron’s office, The Financial Times took the article off the internet — something a spokeswoman, Kristina Eriksson, said she couldn’t recall the publication ever having done before. The next day, the newspaper published a letter from Mr. Macron attacking the deleted article.

In late October, Politico Europe also deleted an op-ed article, “The dangerous French religion of secularism,” that it had solicited from a French sociologist. The piece set off a firestorm from critics who said the writer was blaming the victims of terrorism. But the hasty deletion prompted the author to complain of “outright censorship.” Politico Europe’s editor in chief, Stephen Brown, said that the article’s timing after the attack was inappropriate, but that he had apologized to the author for taking it down without explanation. He didn’t cite any specific errors. It was also the first time, he said, that Politico had ever taken down an opinion article.

But French complaints go beyond those opinion articles and to careful journalism that questions government policy. A skeptical Washington Post analysis from its Paris correspondent, James McAuley, “Instead of fighting systemic racism, France wants to ‘reform Islam,’” drew heated objections for its raised eyebrow at the idea that “instead of addressing the alienation of French Muslims,” the French government “aims to influence the practice of a 1,400-year-old faith.” The New York Times drew a contrast between Mr. Macron’s ideological response and the Austrian chancellor’s more “conciliatory” address after a terror attack, and noted that the isolated young men carrying out attacks don’t neatly fit into the government’s focus on extremist networks. In the Times opinion pages, an op-ed asked bluntly, “Is France Fueling Muslim Terrorism by Trying to Prevent It?”

And then, of course, there are the tweets. The Associated Press deleted a tweet that asked why France “incites” anger in the Muslim world, saying it was a poor word choice for an articleexplaining anger at France in the Muslim world. The New York Times was roasted on Twitter and in the pages of Le Monde for a headline — which appeared briefly amid the chaos of the beheading — “French Police Shoot and Kill Man After a Fatal Knife Attack on the Street.” The Times headline quickly changed as French police confirmed details, but the screenshot remained.

“It’s as though we were in the smoking ruins of ground zero and they said we had it coming,” Mr. Macron’s spokeswoman, Anne-Sophie Bradelle, complained to Le Monde.

As any observer of American politics knows, it can be hard to untangle theatrical outrage and Twitter screaming matches from real differences in values. Mr. Macron argues that there are big questions at the heart of the matter.

“There is a sort of misunderstanding about what the European model is, and the French model in particular,” he said. “American society used to be segregationist before it moved to a multiculturalist model, which is essentially about coexistence of different ethnicities and religions next to one another.”

“Our model is universalist, not multiculturalist,” he said, outlining France’s longstanding insistence that its citizens not be categorized by identity. “In our society, I don’t care whether someone is Black, yellow or white, whether they are Catholic or Muslim, a person is first and foremost a citizen.”

Some of the coverage Mr. Macron complains about reflects a genuine difference of values. The French roll their eyes at America’s demonstrative Christianity. And Mr. Macron’s talk of head scarves and menus, along with the interior minister’s complaints about Halal food in supermarkets, clashes with the American emphasis on religious tolerance and the free expression protected by the First Amendment.

Such abstract ideological distinctions can seem distant from the everyday lives of France’s large ethnic minorities, who complain of police abuse, residential segregation and discrimination in the workplace. Mr. Macron’s October speech also acknowledged, unusually for a French leader, the role that the French government’s “ghettoization” of Muslims in the suburbs of Paris and other cities played in creating generations of alienated young Muslims. And some of the coverage that has most offended the French has simply reflected the views of Black and Muslim French people who don’t see the world the way French elites want them to.

Picking fights with American media is also an old sport in France, and it can be hard to know when talk of cultural differences is real and when it is intended to wave away uncomfortable realities. And reactionary French commentators have gone further than Mr. Macron in attacking the U.S. media, drawing energy from the American culture wars. A flame-throwing article in the French magazine Marianne blasted U.S. coverage and then appeared in English in Tablet with an added American flourish denouncing “simplistic woke morality plays.”

But the ideological gaps between French and American points of view can be deceptive. The French commentariat has also harped on the #metoo movement as an example of runaway American ideology. Pascal Bruckner, the well-known public intellectual, called the sexual abuse case against Roman Polanski “neo-feminist McCarthyism.” But perhaps the most prominent American journalism in France this year came from The Times’s Norimitsu Onishi, who played a central role in forcing France to grapple with the well-known pedophilia of a famous writer, Gabriel Matzneff. A recent profile in a French news site described Mr. Onishi and others as “kicking the anthill just by naming things” that had previously gone unspoken. Mr. Matzneff is now facing charges.

And Mr. Macron has his own political context: a desperate fight against a resurgent coronavirus, a weak economy and a political threat from the right. He is also disentangling himself from an early, unsuccessful attempt to build a relationship with President Trump. He had spoken to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. the day before our conversation.

I asked him whether his vocal complaints about the American media weren’t themselves a little Trumpian — advancing his agenda through high-profile attacks on the press.

Mr. Macron said he simply wanted himself and his country to be clearly understood. “My message here is: If you have any question on France, call me,” he said. (He has, in fact, never granted The Times’s Paris bureau an interview, which would be a nice start.)

And he recoiled at the comparison to Mr. Trump.

“I read your newspapers, I’m one of your readers,” he said.

Macron wants to fix France’s social ills – but he won’t do it by ‘reforming’ Islam

Good commentary by Art Goldhammer:

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, minced no words in his recent diatribe against his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron. “Macron needs mental treatment,” Erdoğan said. This blast from Ankara came in response to Macron’s announcement of a series of measures intended to “reform” the practice of Islam in France and end “Islamic separatism” – proof, to Erdoğan, that Macron had “a problem with Islam”.

Then, just five days later, on 29 October, a newly arrived Tunisian immigrant killed three Christians at prayer in Nice. France had yet again been the victim of “an Islamist terrorist attack,” Macron proclaimed. He did not need to remind his countrymen of the beheading of schoolteacher Samuel Paty by another immigrant, this one of Chechen descent, in broad daylight two weeks earlier, or of the prior stabbing of two people outside the former offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. The execution of Paty, the murders in Nice, and the Paris stabbings are just the latest in a series of attacks that have claimed the lives of 260 French citizens since 2012. No one can deny that France has a terrorism problem.

Source: Macron wants to fix France’s social ills – but he won’t do it by ‘reforming’ Islam

Blanchet seeks to drive values wedge between Quebec and Trudeau government

Virtue signalling during the pandemic, when Quebec has some of the highest per capita infection and death rates worldwide:

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet is doubling down on efforts to draw a line separating his party’s values from those of the Trudeau Liberals — particularly on the fraught ground of free speech.

Blanchet posted a tweet Sunday suggesting Justin Trudeau’s response to attacks in France that authorities have attributed to Muslim extremists did not go far enough, and highlighted what the Bloc leader called a “disturbing gap” in values that he chalked up to possible “weakness” or “ideology” on the prime minister’s part.

Blanchet said in French that Trudeau is threatening Quebec’s friendship with France. He’s sought to align his province with that country’s “republican and secular” principles, contrasting them with what he called an “Anglo-Saxon multiculturalist doctrine.”

Source: Blanchet seeks to drive values wedge between Quebec and Trudeau government

Glavin: On the death of Samuel Paty – Shouldn’t freedom of religion mean freedom from religion too?

Two articles responding to the reaction in many Muslim countries to French President Macron’s comments following the beheading of Samuel Paty, starting with Terry Glavin’s pointing out the hypocrisy of those who criticize Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate in the West while being silent on Chinese repression and arguably genocidal policies against the Uighurs:

Samuel Paty was a quiet 47-year-old middle-school civics teacher at the Collège du Bois d’Aulne, in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, in the suburbs of Paris. He would walk to and from school from his second-floor apartment in nearby Eragny, where he lived alone with his five-year-old son. After class, he liked to play tennis. By all accounts passionately devoted to teaching, Samuel Paty was otherwise a man of temperate disposition, well-regarded by his students and by his colleagues.

That was just three weeks ago. Now, Paty’s name is coming up in blood-curdling slogans shouted in the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh, and in arguments and imbecilities erupting in Ankara, Riyadh, Islamabad and Tehran. Ambassadors have been summoned. Diplomats have been recalled. Tuesday this week was officially International Religious Freedom Day. If there was anything worth observing about it, it’s that religious freedom must mean freedom from religion, too, or it means nothing at all.

Source: Glavin: On the death of Samuel Paty – Shouldn’t freedom of religion mean freedom from religion too?

More temperate commentary by Konrad Yakabuski along similar lines:

The beheading this month of a middle-school teacher by an 18-year-old Islamic extremist, upset that his victim had shown caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed to his students, was a crime so horrific that it shocked even France’s most-hardened anti-terrorism experts.

In a country permanently on high alert since a wave of terrorist attacks took the lives of hundreds of French civilians in 2015, the gruesome decapitation of teacher Samuel Paty was unanimously condemned by French politicians as an assault on the Republic itself.

“Samuel Paty was killed because the Islamists want our future and because they know that, with heroes like him, they will never have it,” President Emmanuel Macron declared at an Oct. 21 ceremony in honour of the slain teacher held outside the Sorbonne. “We will defend the freedom you taught and raise up secularism. We will not renounce caricatures, or sketches, even if others step back. We will offer all the chances that the Republic owes to its youth without discrimination.”

The caricatures that Mr. Paty had shown his adolescent students, as part of a lesson on freedom of expression, were the same ones that had led to an attack on the offices of the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo in 2015. That attack left 12 people dead and sparked the global “Je suis Charlie” movement in support of free speech. But Mr. Macron’s defence of the freedom of the press earned him nasty epithets throughout the Muslim world and exposed once again the clash in values between France’s secularist majority and its growing Muslim minority.

French police have rounded up dozens of suspected accomplices to the attack on Mr. Paty by a Chechen refugee who had been alerted to the teacher’s actions by French Muslims who denounced it on social media. Mr. Macron and hardline Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin have vowed further crackdowns on imams accused of promoting Islamic “separation” within France.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan led the foreign charge against Mr. Macron with weekend diatribes questioning the French President’s mental health and accusing him of “leading a campaign of hate” against Muslims akin to the pre-Second World War treatment of European Jews. On Monday, Mr. Erdogan joined growing calls for a boycott of French products. Anti-Macron protests erupted in several majority-Muslim countries.

While other Western leaders expressed solidarity with Mr. Macron in the wake of Mr. Paty’s killing, it took Prime Minister Justin Trudeau 10 days to even acknowledge the incident – and only after the Bloc Québécois brought forward a House of Commons motion condemning the attack “on freedom of expression” in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, northeast of Paris.

Questioned by journalists on Tuesday, Mr. Trudeau did condemn Mr. Paty’s killing, but declined to express his solidarity with Mr. Macron. “I’m going to take the opportunity to talk to world leaders, community leaders, leaders of the Muslim community here in Canada, to understand their worries, their concerns, to listen and to work to reduce these tensions,” Mr. Trudeau said.

Unfortunately for Mr. Trudeau, there is no middle ground in this debate. If he does not stand with Mr. Macron to defend freedom of expression, he automatically stands with Mr. Erdogan as an apologist for Muslim extremists. A listening tour will not cut it.

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne also failed the grade with a Monday tweet in which he expressed “solidarity with our French friends.” He referred to “Turkey’s recent comments” as being “totally unacceptable” but did not rebuke Mr. Erdogan personally. He promised to “defend freedom of expression with respect.”

There is no other way to interpret Mr. Champagne’s tweet except as a repudiation of Mr. Paty and Charlie Hebdo. The caricatures depicting the Prophet Mohammed were anything but respectful. That was their whole point. No religion is off limits to satirists. And thank God for that.

The right to freedom of speech is meaningless if it is subject to conditions such as “respect.” The Constitution protects freedom of speech precisely because speech that is meaningful is often controversial. It is up to the courts to determine what constitutes hate speech under Section 319 of the Criminal Code. But the bar is set mercifully high. Democracy depends on it.

This is the second time in as many weeks that Mr. Trudeau’s government chose to trample on the Charter in the name of political correctness. After a University of Ottawa professor was suspended for using the n-word as part of an educational online lecture, Mr. Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland made banal pronouncements about fighting systemic racism rather than standing up for academic freedom. It was a facile cop-out on their part.

“We will not give in, ever,” Mr. Macron tweeted on Sunday, in French, English and Arabic. “We respect all differences in a spirit of peace. We do not accept hate speech and [we] defend reasonable debate. We will always be on the side of human dignity and universal values.”

Canadians should stand with Mr. Macron, even if their government will not.

Source: Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-canadians-should-stand-with-macron-even-if-trudeau-wont/

A Teacher, His Killer and the Failure of French Integration

Good in-depth background:

They could have easily shared the same classroom — the immigrant teenager and the veteran teacher known for his commitment to instilling the nation’s ideals, in a relationship that had turned waves of newcomers into French citizens.

But Abdoullakh Anzorov, 18, who grew up in France from age 6 and was the product of its public schools, rejected those principles in a horrific crime that shocked and enraged France. Offended by cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad shown in a class on free speech given by the teacher, Samuel Paty, 47, the teenager beheaded him a week ago with a long knife before being gunned down by the police.

France has paid national homage to Mr. Paty because the killing was seen as an attack on the very foundation — the teacher, the public school — of French citizenship. In the anger sweeping the nation, French leaders have promised to redouble their defense of a public educational system that plays an essential role in shaping national identity.

The killing has underscored the increasing challenges to that system as France grows more racially and ethnically diverse. Two or three generations of newcomers have now struggled to integrate into French society, the political establishment agrees.

But the nation, broadly, has balked at the suggestion from critics, many in the Muslim community, that France’s model of integration, including its schools, needs an update or an overhaul.

President Emmanuel Macron’s emphatic defense of the caricatures has also led to ripples overseas. Several Muslim nations, including Kuwait and Qatar, have begun boycotting French goods in protest. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey questioned Mr. Macron’s mental health in a speech, prompting France to recall its ambassador to Turkey.

Mr. Anzorov was the latest product of France’s public schools to turn against their ideals: Two brothers who went to public schools in 2015 attacked Charlie Hebdo, the satirical magazine that published — and republished last month — caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

Jean-Pierre Obin, a former senior national education official, said that public schools played a leading role in “the cultural assimilation and political integration” of immigrant children who “were turned into good little French” and no longer felt “Italian, Spanish, Portuguese or Polish.” Other institutions that also played this role — the Catholic church, unions and political parties — have been weakened, leaving only the schools, he said.

“Today, public schools can’t fully do this,” Mr. Obin said. “But I don’t see another model — especially the Anglo-Saxon model of multiculturalism, which I don’t think is more successful.”

The French model ran into obstacles when the immigrants were no longer European, white or Roman Catholic. Today about 10 percent of France’s population is believed to be Muslim.

The push to assimilate risks engendering a form of xenophobia in the broader population, said Hakim El Karoui, a senior fellow at the Paris-based think tank Institut Montaigne.

“The message is: ‘We don’t want your otherness because we want you to be like us,’” he said.

The children who fail to assimilate — and often end up lost, feeling that they belong to neither France nor their ancestral countries — embody the doubt “that our model is not the right one,” Mr. El Karoui said, a possibility that the French “obviously find unbearable.”

It was in schools that immigrant children learned not only proper French, but also how to politely address teachers as “Madame” or “Monsieur.” They also absorbed notions like secularism in a country where, much like in the United States, ideals form the basis of nationhood.

At least on paper, Mr. Anzorov seemed a good candidate to fit into French society. A Russian of Chechen descent, he arrived in Paris when he was 6 and entered a public primary school. When he was about 10, his family moved to Évreux, a city in an economically depressed area about 55 miles west of Paris and home to about 50 Chechen families, according to Chechens living in the city.

The Chechens largely kept to themselves in Madeleine, a poor neighborhood with other immigrants, who are mostly from former French colonies and whose integration is often complicated by France’s colonial legacy. 

Mr. Anzorov attended a middle school called Collège Pablo Neruda that, hewing to the national curriculum, also offered civics lessons on secularism and freedom of expression. He lived in a rent-subsidized, five-story apartment building with his family, with a direct view of the local jail.

“He always passed in front of my place when going home,” said Ruslan Ibragimov, 49, a Chechen who arrived in Évreux 18 years ago. “He was always alone, with his backpack. Even when he would see me from afar, he’d come over to greet me. He never talked much.”

Never much interested in his studies, Mr. Anzorov was passionate about mixed-martial arts, said a 26-year-old Chechen who also practices the sport. When he was 16 in 2018, Mr. Anzorov lived for a while in Toulouse, where he had an uncle.

There, he joined a sports club that had a Chechen coach and a good reputation among athletes, the 26-year-old said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he said he feared reprisals against Chechens.

“His goal was to fight in the U.F.C.,” the 26-year-old said, referring to the Ultimate Fighting Championship, a top promoter of mixed martial arts.

Located in a public facility, the club was investigated by the local authorities because some members prayed in the locker room and asked women to cover their arms and legs, according to the French news media.

In a country guided by strict secularism, such actions are a violation of French law and regarded as signs of radicalization by the authorities — and they have led to many sports clubs being placed under surveillance.

But it was not known what, if any, influence the club exerted on Mr. Anzorov, who had not been on any terrorism watch list.

Unsuccessful in Toulouse, Mr. Anzorov came back to Évreux. His father, who specialized in setting up security for construction sites and other businesses, was encouraging his son to join him, Mr. Ibragimov said. The father had recently bought his son a car, he added.

“But he couldn’t drive it yet because he still hadn’t gotten his driver’s license,” Mr. Ibragimov said.

It was only in recent months that the teenager had shown signs of radicalization, said the special antiterrorism prosecutor, Jean-François Ricard. Mr. Anzorov’s transformation appeared to have played out online, according to an analysis by the French news website Mediapart of a Twitter account that he created in June and that was deleted last week after his death.

His posts on Twitter attacked a wide range of targets — from Jews to Christians to the rulers of Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Paty was teaching history and civics at a middle school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a middle-class Paris suburb, at the time of the attack.

“He is the kind of teacher who leaves his mark, by his gentleness and open-mindedness,” said Maeva Latil, 21, who joined a tribute in front of the Jacques-Prévert middle school, in a small village south of Paris, where Mr. Paty taught between 2011 and 2018.

In history classes, he used contemporary examples — from Pink Floyd songs to a book on racism by a soccer player — to make his teaching resonate with his students, said Aurélie Davoust, 43, a former literature teacher at Jacques-Prévert.

“With him, there was really this aspect: You don’t study history to talk about dead things, you study history to become a citizen,” she said.

Mr. Paty was a strong believer in laïcité, the strict secularism that separates religion from the state in France. Ms. Davoust recalled Mr. Paty once asking a young girl wearing a cross around her neck in school to take it off.

“Our democracy was established against the Catholic Church and the monarchy, and laïcité is the way that democracy was organized in France,” said Dominique Schnapper, a sociologist and president of the Council of the Wise, a group created by the government in 2018 to reinforce laïcité in public schools.

In a class on freedom of expression — including the right to say blasphemous things about all religions — Mr. Paty used caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, Jesus and rabbis to teach, former students said.

After his transfer a few years ago to Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, in a Paris suburb with a more diverse population, he appeared to adjust his approach. When showing caricatures, he began telling students who might be offended that they could leave the classroom or look away.

At the new school, students said he showed mostly caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that had been published by Charlie Hebdo. One of the two shown this month was titled “A star is born” and depicted Muhammad fully nude. That upset many Muslim students and their parents, according to the local chapter of PEEP, a national parents association.

Mr. Paty said he was surprised by the backlash and apologized to students, said Talia, a 13-year-old student who was present at the lecture.

“He told us that he’s a teacher, that this class is part of his program, that France is a secular country and so is our school,” said Talia, who asked that she be identified by her first name only given the sensitivity of the situation.

One angry father complained about the teacher in videos he uploaded on social media. Enraged, Mr. Anzorov, the Chechen teenager, traveled all the way from Évreux to Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, nearly 60 miles, to kill Mr. Paty.

“Did he never have committed teachers? Or did he have them and he didn’t hear them?” Ms. Schnapper, the president of the Council of the Wise, said of Mr. Anzorov’s years in France’s public schools. “We’ll never know. But it’s a sign of failure.”

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/26/world/europe/france-beheading-teacher.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage

As France mourns slain teacher Samuel Paty, some question secular values

Needed discussion:

In January 2015, millions of people flooded the streets of Paris and other French cities to denounce the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks. An angry nation brandished brightly colored pencils and banners, defending free expression and France’s staunchly secular ideology.

Five years later, and after another terrorist attack, there’s a sense of deja vu. Today’s protests are smaller. But the horror is the same, following the brutal decapitation of Samuel Paty, a middle school history teacher, after he displayed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a class on free speech.

The same mocking cartoons which inspired the Charlie Hebdo attacks — and last month’s stabbing of two people in Paris — are again testing the limits of France’s vaunted secularism, or laïcité. Clashing views of faith and free speech are on the line. Feeding the tensions, some experts say, is a broader sense of stigmatization and disenfranchisement felt by many French Muslims, who represent Western Europe’s largest Islamic community.

Now, as President Emmanuel Macron and his centrist government have vowed an all-out war against radical Islam, critics have said the strong defense of secularism is only exacerbating the problem. Instead of providing a neutral space for the country’s melting pot of beliefs, as it’s intended, secularismenshrined in a 1905 law separating church and state — has become a flashpoint.

“There’s a political culture that has problems with Islam,” said Farhad Khosrokhavar, a prominent sociologist and expert on radical Islam. “And this political culture, laïcité, is a problem.”

Paty was posthumously awarded with France’s highest civilian award, the Legion d’Honneur

Secularism has become ‘a civil religion’

Authorities insist there is no disharmony between moderate Islam and French values. They instead fault communitarianism, a term used in France to suggest an inward-looking view of society that is often, although not exclusively, linked to conservative Islam. More recently, Macron has replaced communitarianism with separatism in his lexicon.

Some observers have said that same inward view helped fuel Paty’s murder, with authorities citing an online hate campaign launched by a disgruntled parent of a student in Paty’s class. That campaign, they say, motivated 18-year-old Chechen refugee Abdoullakh Anzorov to kill Paty.

In its fight against communitarianism over the years, the French government has introduced bans on religious symbols in public schools and offices and outlawed full-body Islamic swimsuits, or burkinis, in public swimming pools and beaches, the latter cast as a hygienic measure.

In September some lawmakers, including from Macron’s own party, recently walked out of a session of the National Assembly during a speech by a veiled student leader — although she had broken no laws with her hijab.

Laïcité was once a way to manage the relationship between government and society,” said Khosrokhavar. “But it has become a kind of civil religion, with its codes, its prescriptions.”

As he paid homage to Paty at a national memorial in Paris on Wednesday, Macron offered up an emotional defense of France’s secular values. He said they provided the space for free and critical thinking, and even the right to mock a religion — although not a person.

“We will not give up cartoons,” the president vowed at the ceremony in the courtyard of the Sorbonne University.

Macron’s government has responded to Paty’s murder with muscular action, carrying out dozens of raids against suspected Islamist networks early this week, temporarily shutting down a mosque in a Paris suburb for relaying a denunciation against the teacher and vowing to expel radicalized foreigners and dissolve organizations with extremist ties. It also plans to unveil legislation in early December to fight separatism, with Islamist extremism in its crosshairs.

Government ‘needs a scapegoat’

But France’s largest opposition party, the far-right National Rally, believes Macron’s government hasn’t gone far enough.

Calling radical Islam a “warlike ideology,” National Rally leader Marine Le Pen — considered for now as the president’s top opponent in the April 2022 presidential election — has called for “war legislation” to match it, including an immediate halt to immigration.

Others, however, fear the authorities have gone too far. Among the most prominent groups targeted for dissolution is the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF). Hard-line Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has described the NGO that offers legal aid for Muslims as a “threat to the Republic.”

Darmanin has linked the CCIF to Paty’s killing, ostensibly because the disgruntled father behind the hate campaign against the teacher sought the group’s help. CCIF head Jawad Bachare has rejected such accusations, and several rights groups have protested the group’s possible dissolution.

“The government was unable to protect its citizens and it needs a scapegoat,” Bachare said in an interview earlier this week. “And that’s the CCIF.”

Stirring up the debate is a government plan to “renew” the Secularism Observatory, a government advisory body, to reportedly bring it more “in line” with the fight against separatism. The body has sometimes gone against state and local authorities on matters like the burkini ban on beaches, which it said was illegal.

Remarks made Tuesday by Darmanin during a TV interview also haven’t helped matters. Speaking with broadcaster BFM TV, he suggested “separatism” extended even to supermarkets.

“I do not criticize the consumers but those who sell them something. I understand very well that halal meat is sold in a supermarket, what I regret is the aisles,” he said. “So you have the aisle for Muslims, the kosher aisle and then all the others … why specific aisles?”

French worry secular values are in danger

Such moves may resonate with French voters, shaken by a string of Islamic terror attacks in recent years that have left more than 250 dead. But some may question their timing, coming 18 months ahead of the presidential election.

A survey this week by the Ifop polling firm found an overwhelming majority of respondents considered France’s secular values were in danger, and that radical Islam was at war with the country.

Laïcité is not against religion but allows everyone to live his religion or be atheist,” said Elisabeth Gandin, who joined thousands at Paris’ Place de la Republique to protest the attack against Paty. “I don’t agree with the Charlie cartoons, but I’m on the streets to defend the right to say things some may not like.”

Bolstering those views may be another recent Ifop survey suggesting that 40% of Muslims, including more than three-quarters of those under 25, put their religious convictions ahead of the country. Those figures were far higher than for non-Muslims, although skeptics have questioned how the survey’s questions were framed.

Muslims feel targeted by secularism

Mainstream Muslim leaders have expressed outrage at Paty’s killing, echoing arguments about the dangers of radical Islam while also warning against stigmatizing the Muslim community as a whole.

“We cannot allow on French territory words, activities, actions, calls for hate without punishing them,” Tareq Oubrou, the imam of Bordeaux mosque, told France Info radio. Still, he said, ordinary Muslims are doubly hit, “as both French citizens and Muslims.”

Analyst Khosrokhavar believes France’s fierce interpretation of secularism has paradoxically helped fuel radicalization. He notes the country became Western Europe’s biggest exporter of jihadi fighters to Syria, even though others, like Germany and Britain, also have large Muslim populations. Intolerant views about headscarves, he claims, have helped push some conservative Muslim women toward fundamentalism.

“The majority feel they are targeted by this laïcité, which becomes a kind of symbol of neo-colonial rule and for them, a denial of their dignity,” Khosrokhavar said, referring also to his interviews with multiple middle-class Muslim men, many not particularly religious, for an upcoming book.

Teaching tolerance, secularism demands patience

Teachers, especially in France’s immigrant-heavy suburbs, say they must also tread carefully in dealing with secularism as they are on the front lines of explaining its principles.

“There is a penetration of a religiosity that increasingly structures students and feeds a radical vision,” said Iannis Roder, a history teacher in the Seine-Saint-Denis region northeast of Paris, which is home to one of the country’s largest populations of North African and Black immigrants. “It manifests itself in really basic things, like some students refusing to listen to music during Ramadan,” he told French radio.

Teaching tolerance and secularism to her class, another Paris-area high school teacher said, demands patience.

“Tackling free expression by showing caricatures of the Prophet [Muhammad] — you have to weigh the consequences,” she said, declining to be identified as she had not received her school’s authorization to speak to the media.

The teacher has spent years on projects to explain the Holocaust and other sensitive events, taking her often skeptical students on field trips to see history up close.

“You have to fight,” she said, “but it’s a long fight.”

Source: As France mourns slain teacher Samuel Paty, some question secular values