Survey reveals attitudes of French citizens of Arab origin toward secularism

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Sixty-five percent French Arabs surveyed affirm that they would defend the French values of secularism in their country of origin. (Shutterstock)
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Sixty-five percent French Arabs surveyed affirm that they would defend the French values of secularism in their country of origin. (Shutterstock)
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People pay tribute to the dead outside Notre Dame Basilica in Nice, France following a terrorist attack. France recently witnessed a wave of terrorist attacks. (AFP)
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Updated 30 November 2020

Survey reveals attitudes of French citizens of Arab origin toward secularism

  • The majority of Arabs in France accept French secularism but oppose a more militant version of the principle
  • Some are worried about new regulations treating Muslims very differently from other believers

LONDON: The opinion poll carried out jointly by Arab News and YouGov provides detailed data on the relationship of French people of Arab origin to secularism in France and reveals a generally benevolent view of the French model.

Indeed, 65 percent of the people questioned affirm that they would defend the French values of secularism in their country of origin. Among the over-45s 80 percent share this opinion. Less than half (46 percent) believe that the French model is not appropriate for Arab countries.

Secularism “the French way” is running up against a wall of incomprehension in the Arab-Muslim world, as strong tensions have demonstrated in recent weeks with some countries calling for a boycott of France.

The French model is mainly based on a triptych set out in the 1905 law on the separation of churches and state: the separation of politics and religion, state neutrality and respect for freedom of conscience. Even though the 1905 law was passed in an anti-clerical context, it is not fundamentally hostile to religion.

The French of Arab origin largely adhere to the 1905 definition of secularism but are reluctant to go beyond it. So 62 percent are opposed to the state restricting the wearing of religious clothing, with the proportion even higher among the younger generation (71 percent). However, responses varied according to the level of income. Of those questioned 34 percent of people with an income below €20,000 ($24,000) per year are in favor of more restrictive laws, compared to 49 percent of people with an income above €40,000.

Since the turn of the century, several laws have been adopted to limit the wearing of religious symbols, such as the 2004 law prohibiting the wearing of religious symbols in schools, and the 2010 law prohibiting the wearing of the burqa in public spaces.

“The French Muslims have generally accepted these new laws and respect them, but are worried about new regulations treating Muslims very differently from other believers,” said Haoues Seniguer, lecturer at Sciences Po Lyon University and a researcher at the Triangle laboratory (ENS/CNRS).

INNUMBERS

  • 65% willing to defend French secularism in their country of origin.
  • 62% oppose state restrictions on wearing religious clothing.

More and more politicians are calling for strong measures in a more radical secularism, in particular to limit the wearing of the veil in public spaces, for example at universities, or when the parents of pupils accompany school trips.

There are two visions of secularism in France. On one hand, there is the liberal legacy of the Third Republic embodied by the French statesman Aristide Briand — who served 11 terms as prime minister and introduced the law of 1905 — for which secularism does not have to interfere with the religiosity of individuals. On the other hand, there is a militant secularism, which considers secularism as a form of individual emancipation with regard to religion.

This second vision of secularism is on the rise today, and it is creating tensions among French Muslims, Seniguer said.

The polarization around the debate on Islam and secularism is not new. “Militant secularism was reinforced at the beginning of the 1990s, in a context of the growing visibility of Muslims in the public spaces and of identity claims, as illustrated by the affair of the scarf of Creil in 1989 (when three Muslim girls were suspended for wearing scarves in school),” Seniguer said.

Moreover, this period has also coincided with that of a globalized Islam and the advance of Islamists in several countries, such as the FIS in Algeria, which has sometimes manifested itself in violence.

The new law against separatism or “consolidating secularism and republican principles,” which has been toughened since the assassination of Samuel Paty, the teacher murdered in a Paris suburb in October, will be on the table of the Council of Ministers on December 9. Enough to further fuel lively new debates on the future of French secularism.


Dutch government collapses over benefits scandal

Updated 15 January 2021

Dutch government collapses over benefits scandal

  • Parents being targeted for investigation because they had dual nationality also underscored long-standing criticisms of systemic racism in the Netherlands
  • The row threatens to leave the Netherlands without a government in the midst of a surge in cases of a new Covid-19 variant

THE HAGUE: Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s government resigned on Friday over a child benefits scandal, media reported, threatening political turmoil as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic.
Thousands of parents were wrongly accused by Dutch authorities of fraudulently claiming child allowance, with many of them forced to pay back large amounts of money and ending up in financial ruin.
The fact that some parents were targeted for investigation by tax officials because they had dual nationality also underscored long-standing criticisms of systemic racism in the Netherlands.
Dutch media said Rutte was due to give a statement at 1315 GMT about the resignation of his four-party coalition cabinet, which comes just two months before the Netherlands is due to hold a general election on March 17.
A hard-hitting parliamentary investigation in December said civil servants cut off benefits to thousands of families wrongly accused of fraud between 2013 and 2019.
The row threatens to leave the Netherlands without a government in the midst of a surge in cases of a new Covid-19 variant that first emerged in Britain.
Rutte had opposed the cabinet’s resignation, saying the country needs leadership during the pandemic.
He had however said that if it resigned he could be authorized to lead a caretaker government until elections — in which polls say his Freedom and Democracy Party would likely come first.
Other parties in the coalition had pushed for the government to take responsibility for the scandal, which Dutch media said some 26,000 people had been affected.
They could have also faced a confidence vote in parliament next week.
Pressure mounted on the government after opposition Labour party chief Lodewijk Asscher, who was social affairs minister in Rutte’s previous cabinet, resigned on Thursday over the scandal.
Victims also lodged a legal complaint Tuesday against three serving ministers and two former ministers including Asscher.
Many were required to pay back benefits totalling tens of thousands of euros (dollars).
Tax officials were also revealed to have carried out “racial profiling” of 11,00 people based on their dual nationality, including some of those hit by the false benefit fraud accusations.
The Dutch government announced at least 30,000 euros in compensation for each parent who was wrongly accused but it has not been enough to silence the growing clamour over the scandal.
Rutte has led three coalition governments since 2010, most recently winning elections in 2017 despite strong opposition from far-right leader Geert Wilders.
Polls say he is likely to win a fourth term in the next election, with public opinion still largely backing his handling of the coronavirus crisis.