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Secularization is Nationalism in France:
The Logic of the New French Secularization Law
By Kasia Kubin
Page 1|2


For me, Europe and France especially, always stood as some kind of proof that it’s possible to uphold the value and viability of human rights; but this, I admit hopeful and naïve perspective was significantly undermined by the recent proposal for a national ban on wearing “conspicuous” religious symbols in French public schools: no more Muslim veil, Jewish yarmulke, Sikh turban, or large Christian cross. According to the French President, Jacques Chirac, the law hopes to help eliminate differences in the population and further promote a separation of church and state.

Clearly, secularism is a noble goal for a highly diverse society where the influence of any one religious or cultural standard should be minimized in order to allow freedom of expression and choice. But for the goal of secularization, the new law is falsely oriented and inappropriate: it is illogical. In reality, the new law will force people to forgo their personal beliefs at the expense of theoretical principles and bow down to the will of the state. Most importantly, the law disproportionately targets minorities and people of color, which is consistent with the French preoccupation with “its immigration problem” and puts the motives behind the law in question.


The most obvious reason why the approach to church/state separation in the new law is illogical is that by banning religious symbols in public schools, it will not change how the legal, executive and legislative branches of government function. It is these governmental institutions where secularism is important in order to ensure that, for instance, Muslims are not given jail sentences just because the current post-September 11th geopolitical situation is antagonistic to and skeptical of anything having to do with Islam. Schools should, above all, be a place where social diversity is exposed, analyzed and celebrated in a real context, and not with cheesy pictures of colors-of-the-rainbow-hands-clasping. Religious (and all other kinds of) diversity in schools should be seen as a way of exposing people to the differences that exist in society, to emphasize that differences are OK, and to encourage people to understand that they can get along despite of differences. Given the logic of the proposed law, it might be more to-the-point to ban Muslim and Jewish students from attending schools altogether; this would after all be a more effective way of promoting the image that everyone is the same. In fact, the new law may have just such consequences. Manprit Sigh, a 19 year old Sikh living in France, was quoted by the BBC to say: "Our parents are not rich enough to send us to private schools [which will be exempt from the law], neither can we go and study in other European countries…So it basically means that from next year, all of us will have to give up studies and be at home" (BBC website: “French Sikhs Defend the Turban”). In most cases the new law will force people into an unfair decision: to secularize themselves or to pursue their education.

Continued on Page 2 >>


 

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