French Muslim Charter— a step in the right direction

French Muslim Charter— a step in the right direction

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To wean out ‘separatism’ from Islam, French authorities have agreed with the French Council of Muslim Faith on a “Charter of Principles.” The agreement will create conditions to monitor funding on religious activities, train Imams, and resist French institutions and law enforcement agencies from practicing state racism that feeds into Muslim hatred. The overall thrust is to define an “Islam of France.”
Ever since he became President of France, Emmanuel Macron has wanted to undo the so-called civilizational clashes raised between Muslims, and French authorities of mostly catholic origin.
Islam has been in the crosshairs for spreading so-called ‘international militancy.’ The problem is in aligning militancy with one religion and scapegoating it to achieve the global agenda of neo-imperialism that signifies the end of communism and the rise of the US as the world power.
During the Afghan-soviet war and earlier, the artificial bifurcation of the borders of the pre-colonial states in the Middle East and Asia, a seed of discord was planted for groups like Kurds, Afghans, Palestinians and Kashmiris. Moreover, when Islamic religious figures were dishonored, it was a new low for freedom of expression— what began in Denmark ended in a gruesome way in Nice, France, when a revengeful Tunisian killed three innocent French people in a church. 
The killer chose a church as his target to drive the message home that this was a faith-based conflict. 
To break this vicious circle and promote moderate “Islam à la Françoise,” some politicians and Muslim leaders demanded the state’s intervention to remove the strains of militancy that have crept into secularism— the capstone of France’s constitutional structure. 

Laïcité, the French term for secularism, was first enacted in 1905 during France’s Third Republic. It separated church and state and “assured the liberty of conscience” of all French citizens. During the Fifth Republic, the term was further elaborated to “assure equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction to their origin, race, or religion. It respects all religious beliefs.” 
It was about religious pluralism in the private and public spheres— nothing more, nothing less.

This cultural war against Islam was as much the liberalists’ work as that of the right-wing fundamentalists. However, the liberalists in their jest to demonize Islam had forgotten that by pushing Muslims to the margins, they were throwing them into the arms of the same extremists they loathe.

Durdana Najam

However, down the road, taking a fundamentalist approach to defending their republic and values, the French raised a weapon against themselves over the meaning of secularism. When a French Muslim baker who refused to sell a ham sandwich was reprimanded for his action, a schoolgirl wearing a veil was expelled from school, and Muslims offering daily prayers were looked down upon as threats to French culture, secularism had already taken a back seat and hard-liners were in the lead. 
While documenting the ordeal faced by Muslim women wearing a headscarf, Marie-Anne Valfort, a researcher at the Paris School of Economics found out that “the presumption of belonging to the Muslim rather than the Christian religion is an important discrimination factor in the French labor market.” 
It led to increasing trends of Muslims finding jobs within their own community; reinforcing their segregation, discrimination and marginalization. 
This cultural war against Islam was as much the liberalists’ work as that of the right-wing fundamentalists. However, the liberalists in their jest to demonize Islam had forgotten that by pushing Muslims to the margins, they were throwing them into the arms of the same extremists they loathe. 
Macron saw the spectre of civil war in these events and had warned against the secularists becoming “radicalized.” As a presidential candidate, he had also threatened against “a revanchist vision of secularism which is above all about imposing prohibitions, mostly toward a single religion.” 
Indeed by taking a step to integrate Muslims, President Macron has not yielded to fundamentalists on either side. For a secure future and to disarm the cultural wars forever, a good idea may be, as many intellectuals believe, to teach the history of French colonization honestly in schools and to make a case for Islam as a religion that during its several reigns as a world power, had practiced inclusive and pluralistic political values against minorities.

-Durdana Najam is an oped writer based in Lahore. She writes on security and policy issues. She can be reached at [email protected]

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