Secular France wants nothing to do with religion. Yet, it has been forced to grapple with its increasing Islamization that appears to be spinning out of control. The French Education Minister has a new plan to push back: a secularism charter in every public school. However, France's misguided efforts are unlikely to solve the problem.
France is officially a secular country with separation of church and state. There is no state religion and everyone is free to believe or not believe as they wish. The expression of religious faith is permitted within the boundaries of public order. All creeds are respected and treated equally under the law. But, unlike America which has true religious freedom and allows religion in the public square so long as one religion is not favored over another, the principles underlying France's 1905 Laïcité laws call for the cleansing of religion from State functions and institutions. Therefore, despite the fact that France's Constitution claims otherwise, secularism reigns supreme over faith.
In recent years, France's secular underpinnings have been challenged. Largely due to faulty immigration policies, France is quickly becoming the most Islamized country in Europe. Approximately 200,000 people immigrate legally into France every year, and another 200,000 people immigrate illegally. Currently, approximately 10 percent of France's population is Muslim (an estimated 4.7 – 10 million people) and the numbers are rising.
Muslim immigrants pose a severe threat to French secularism and therefore to the nation's identity. Many Muslim immigrants show little interest in assimilating, learning French, or integrating into mainstream society.
Increasingly, Islamic institutions and practices are replacing French secular traditions. Muslim University students are demanding separation of the sexes, excused absences for religious reasons, and pressuring universities to alter their curriculums.
In some areas, there are Muslim enclaves governed by Sharia law. In these "no-go zones" government officials have de facto relinquished control. Police, firemen, and even ambulances refrain from entry. At last count, France had 751 "Sensitive Urban Zones", as these areas are euphemistically called.
The French are loosing control in other regions of the country as well to groups of Muslims who regularly violate State laws. For example, in some locales Muslims block traffic and fill the streets for Jummah prayers on Fridays, in violation of French law. Yet, the police stand idly by. There are numerous other examples along the same lines.
In recent years, the French government has been trying to push back against the Islamization of its country. It has introduced several initiatives in an attempt to enforce its secular principles.
For example, in 2010, the Parliament passed a law making it illegal to wear a full face veil in public. Though the Islamic burqa was not specifically named in the legislation, everyone knew that the burqa was the target of the bill. In 2004, the government outlawed all religious symbols and attire in public schools. Students can no longer wear yomikas, crosses, or hijabs to school.
Now on August 26, 2013 the French Education Minister Vincent Peillon has announced that the government will post a secularism charter in each of its 55,000 public schools by the end of September. The purpose of the charter is to remind students and teachers of France's secular underpinning and restore "secular morality". Some of the items embodied in the charter mirror France's Constitution, reiterating that there is no State religion and emphasizing separation of religion and state.
Additional items listed in the Charter expressly assert that the school is a secular institution, students are prohibited from proselytizing, and that students are disallowed from demanding excused absences or challenging class lessons based on their religion.
Minister Peillon's true thoughts on the role of secularism in the Republic are revealed in his 2008 book titled, "The Revolution is not Over", published by Seuil. In it he asserts that the purpose of secular education is "to remove the student from all forms of determinism, whether familial, ethnic or social" in order to "enable each student to emancipate himself". He states that the goal of the school is to produce "a free individual, emancipated from all guardianships: political, religious, familial, social – so that he can make his own choices…."
His writings aspire to a new religion …. that of secularism, as indicated by his language: "the Republican system is forced to invent a new metaphysics and a new religion in which man can transcend himself… It is not a religion of God made man… It is a religion of the man who creates himself thought constant movement". He expressly states that socialism needs a new religion to take the place of the old and that Secularism can be that religion. His claims that done properly, this can create a "new birth", "a transubstantiation" and "a new Church".
Apparently, he and other officials in the French government believe that true religion is the problem and that squelching it in favor of a secular manmade religion is the solution.
To date, there is no evidence that such an approach will work. At the current rate of Muslim immigration combined with its high birth rates, France will be a Muslim majority country in 23 years.
The measures instituted by the French government are largely symbolic. The government doesn't appear to have the fortitude to enforce French secularism by doling out consequences for serious infractions of French law committed in the name of Islam, whether in the no-go zones or elsewhere.
True religion is not the problem. Religions that operate within the spiritual sphere, respecting the laws of the land are not a threat to the fabric of French society. There is no reason to repress the religious freedom of all because of the problems posed by only one "religion" that seeks to impose itself on unbelievers. The government must acknowledge that those who seek parallel societies run by Sharia law constitute a subversive political movement, cloaking itself in the language of religion. France must treat the movement accordingly. If it doesn't, the Islamist threat will continue to erode the foundations of French society.
This article was commissioned by Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.