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article imageOp-Ed: French Secularism is Tantamount to Racism

By Michael Cosgrove     Mar 30, 2009 in Politics
France’s secular system, “Laïcité”, is meant to separate church and state. It holds that being French and equal comes before cultural differences, but it has not been adapted to modern multicultural society. The reality of that is not pretty.
Although limited secularism existed in France before the Revolution, Laïcité was a ramped-up version which was introduced after it, in line with the increase in anti-clerical sentiment that was partially responsible for the Revolution in the first place.
Its “equal citizenship” element, which holds that citizens are French first and that racial, religious and ethnic differences cannot be taken into account when administering public affairs, was developed as a result of French colonialism and the naturalisation of colonised populations.
Current interpretation of the system means for example that people here are not allowed to wear religious insignia in schools or if they work in government administrations. That means all public-sector schoolchildren and 40% of the country’s working population. This situation has led to severe criticism by human rights organisations and the European Commission, which both point out the system’s incompatibility with the right to free religious expression.
But the most insidious side-effect of the system is that it covers up, which means it encourages, racism. This is a direct and perverse result of the ‘equal citizenship’ theory.
A concrete example of this is that positive aid and discrimination is forbidden for minorities of any kind and, more importantly, there exist very few official statistics based on criteria such as ethnic, religious or cultural origin concerning crucial subjects such as crime, employment, housing, salaries, poverty and many more. This has led to almost unchecked racial discrimination in many areas of French society because lopsided tendencies are not officially recognised and corrected.
The plain fact is that if you want official statistics on all these issues you won’t find them. They don’t exist. Any unofficial and embarrassing figures that may surface are routinely and condescendingly dismissed by French Government officials as being either contrary to the Constitution, or to the Republic, or biased, or uncorroborated, or all four at once.
Many French people will argue of course that there is no racism in France, because everyone is treated equally. That is a fallacy. For example, the vast majority of parliamentary politicians here are of French (read : white with a name like ‘Dupont’) origin, whereas France’s sixty million inhabitants include almost seven million people of foreign, notably Northern African Maghrebin/Muslim origin.
The cynical hypocrisy of it all can be seen in all its splendour when you consider that during election campaigns there are indeed candidates from racial, and notably Maghrebin, minorities, but they are overwhelmingly fielded in constituencies where they have no chance of winning. Political parties, both on the left and on the right, are thus able to claim glibly that they do promote candidates from minority sections of the community.
It’s the same story in the white-collar and management sections of industry, education, the military, diplomacy, and the state apparatus in general. They all claim to respect the few flimsy anti-race laws that exist here concerning recruitment discrimination, but no official statistics exist to prove them right or wrong.
There are, ironically, several Ministers and State Secretaries of immigrant origin in the current French Government (notably Rachida Dati, Justice Minister and daughter of Algerian and Moroccan immigrants, and Rama Yade, Human Rights State Secretary, of Senegalese). But they are not elected politicians. They were parachuted into the Government by Nicolas Sarkozy in a savvy and cynically vote-catching move designed to demonstrate his willingness to promote racial minorities and women. To be fair to him, he has done much to further the debate on finding some kind of formula to help minorities.
Another example is Yazid Zabeg, a man of Algerian descent who was put into the Government by Sarkozy to work on the Social Promotion of Minorities. Here’s what he had to say on the subject a while back;
“We are creating divisions which are leading us towards Apartheid. We are living in a country which is being divided into separate entities. This is a serious threat to public order”.
He is exaggerating in my view, but if what he says can spark some serious debate on how to change the status-quo, I’m all for it. This issue is not being sufficiently seriously addressed because of a pernicious, secularist and colonially-inspired forced integration mentality that should have been abandoned a long time ago.
I am a fierce defender of secularism, but its excessively dogmatic and brutally heavy-handed application here in France has resulted in many perverse effects, effects that the French seem to prefer not to consider as being important. That is extremely worrying in itself when you think about it. All attempts made to address the reality of racial discrimination here are immediately labelled as either unconstitutional, anti-republican, or, most often, an attempt to import foreign, which really means Anglo-Saxon, methods.
And that would never do, now would it.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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