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18 February 2011

France plans nation-wide Islam and secularism debate



"La France envisage à l'échelle nationale l'islam et la laïcité débat"
"فرنسا خطط الإسلام على مستوى الأمة ومناقشة العلمانية"
Islam is the second most widely practiced religion in France by number of worshippers, with an estimated total of 6 to 10 percent of the national population. Muslims comprised an estimated two-thirds (68.5%) of all new immigrants to France in 2010.[1]

The current Muslim population is mostly due to a wave of immigration after World War II, when the number of Muslims in France surged with the arrival of an increasing foreign labor force from the Maghreb. Immigrants came from nations which maintained strong ties with French language and culture (Francophonie) because of the legacy of past colonization. Immigrants, attracted by economic opportunities, supplied a pool of manpower for the labor-intensive economy which prevailed at this time. They have chosen to settle in France and to embrace citizenship, as they were granted family reunification. Muslims contributed noticeably to the economic expansion of France during that time of "The Glorious Thirty", primarily as blue-collar workers in manufacturing plants or construction.
Historically, presence of Muslims in France is attested briefly in the 8th century when the Moors conquered Spain and pushed northward. The Moors were defeated in 732 by Frankish and Burgundian forces at the Battle of Tours.

Integration

Several studies reveal that France seems to be, among the Western countries, the one where Muslims integrate the best and feel the most for their country. French Muslims also have the most positive opinions about their fellow citizens of different faiths. The study from the Pew Research Centeron Integration is a good example of works revealing this typically French phenomenon.[10]

Discrimination

In 2010, a study entitled Are French Muslims Discriminated Against in Their Own Country? showed that "Muslims sending out resumes in hopes of a job interview had 2.5 times less chance than Christians" with similar credentials "of a positive response to their applications."
Other examples of discrimination against Muslims include the desecration of 148 French Muslim graves near Arras. A pig's head was hung from a headstone and profanities insulting Islam and Muslims were daubed on some graves.[12] Destruction and vandalism of Muslim graves in France were seen as Islamophobic by a report of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia. A number of mosques have also been vandalized in France.

France’s governing party plans to launch a national debate on the role of Islam and respect for French secularism among Muslims here, two issues emerging as major themes for the presidential election due next year.  Jean-François Copé, secretary general of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party, said the debate would examine issues such as the financing and building of mosques, the contents of Friday sermons and the education of the imams delivering them.

The announcement, coming after a meeting of UMP legislators with Sarkozy on Wednesday, follows the president’s declaration last week that multiculturalism had failed in France. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron have made similar statements in recent months that were also seen as aimed at Muslim minorities there. France’s five-million strong Muslim minority is Europe’s largest.
Copé said the debate, due to start in early April, would ask “how to organise religious practice so that it is compatible in our country with the rules of our secular republic.”
UMP parliamentarians said Sarkozy told them they had to lead this debate to ensure it stays under control. The far-right National Front, reinvigorated with its new leader Marine Le Pen, has recently begun a campaign criticising Muslims here.
“Our party, and then parliament, must take on this subject,” they quoted Sarkozy as saying. “I don’t want prayers in the streets, or calls to prayer. We had a debate on the burqa and that was a good thing. We need to agree in principle about the place of religion in 2011.”
France has sought to keep religion out of the public sphere since it officially separated the Catholic Church and the state in 1905. The growth of a Muslim minority in recent decades has posed new challenges that lead to sometimes heated debates. The government banned headscarves in state schools in 2004 and outlawed full face veils in public last year. But there are no rules about halal meals in schools, for example, or whether Muslims can pray in the streets outside an overcrowded mosque.
The French government held a country-wide debate on national identity in 2009-2010 that preceded the full face veil ban. Many Muslims criticised the debate, saying it turned into a forum to stigmatise them and let people air biased views about Islam.
Marine Le Pen, daughter of National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, stole a march on the UMP in December when she compared Muslims praying in the streets to the wartime Nazi occupation. “Marine Le Pen is getting ratings higher than her father, so at 18 months before the presidential election, you can see why it’s getting urgent (for the UMP) to debate the place of Muslims in France and how they practice their religion,” said RTL radio commentator Marie-Bénédicte Allaire.
When journalists asked Copé if the UMP’s Islam debate would only give credence to Le Pen’s campaign, he said: “Marine Le Pen highlights problems but doesn’t work too much on solutions.” Copé said the UMP would invite “numerous civil and religious personalities (for) broad debates about this absolutely major question. It would be wrong not to deal with this.”
According to the daily Le Figaro, Sarkozy asked the UMP deputies for concrete suggestions within a few months for solving disputed issues about religion in the public sphere.
According to a 2009 Gallup poll, 80 percent of French Muslims said they were loyal to France, but 56 percent of the general public doubted their Muslim neighbours were loyal to the country.(Reuters)

Alleged demographic threat

Many national conservative and far-right people in Europe and the United States have depicted Muslims as a demographic threat to France. According to them, the rate of immigration from Arab andMuslim nations is higher than that of any other immigrant groups;[citation needed] the total fertility rate among Muslim families is an average of about 8.1 children per woman,[23] or is about three to four times higher than the indigenous French population;[24] about 30% of all French citizens ages 20 and younger are Muslim,[23] while in major cities such as NiceMarseille, and Paris, that number has grown to about 45%;[23] France will turn into a Muslim state within several decades.[25]
However, these theories have been widely used and criticized for providing inaccurate information. Many of these theories have been promomoted from a YouTube video known as "Muslim Demographics".[26] The video itself has received criticism for providing inaccurate information regarding the demographics of Muslims in Europe and North America. For example, when covering France, it claims that the fertility rate for French Muslims is 8.1. The two nations responsible for the largest number of Muslims immigrating to France are Algeria and Morocco, both of which have a fertility rate of 2.38 as of 2008, while France's is 2.[27] It should also be brought to mind that fertility rates of immigrants will tend to decrease over time and fall into line with the indigenous population.[28] Michèle Tribalat of the Institut national d'études démographiques has said that only around 8 to 9 percent of French people age 25 and under are Muslim. In more modern times, most immigrants to France are now from Africa (excluding North Africa), China, and Eastern Europe.[29] [Wikipedia]


The issue of pluralism:
http://www.social-sciences-and-humanities.com/PDF/islam_in_france.pdf
French citizenry now finds its Islamic presence large enough to threaten its ideal for public life – the balance it has struck amongst its three major pillars: unity, respect for religious pluralism, and liberty of consciousness. As a result, Frenchmen are rethinking their basic notion of pluralism.  Pluralism can no longer mean equal opportunity in socio-economic advancement for deprived groups.  Instead, it must refer to political balance between need for recognizing ethnic and cultural differences at the institutional level and need for maintaining political and cultural cohesion throughout the nation. Neither French politicians nor citizenry are prepared to address the implications of pluralism so defined.  Most Frenchman still hang French unity upon a loyalty to Nation and State elevated above all others. They fear the consequences of any national debate on pluralism which might, by dividing the nation along lines of irreconcilable ideological difference, strengthen the National Front political party, which has already preyed upon racism and xenophobia to mobilize support in favor of a white and Catholic France.
Pluralism, however, is not a phenomenon isolated within French national boundaries; it interfaces with transnationalism. Franco-Muslims necessarily maintain solidarities and linkages with Islamic cultures and movements beyond France.  If not for education and training in foreign Muslim countries, few leaders would exist at all within the French Muslim community—given their limited resources for clerical study within France.
While transnational dimensions to Islamic membership are generally seen by French society to be exclusively sources of political risk and international instability, the reality is otherwise. Religion, in general, and Islam, in particular, can facilitate social integration -- the modern imagination’s difficulty perceiving religion as a vehicle for cooperation and progress notwithstanding. Allegiance to Islam is indeed allowing French-born Muslims to integrate into French society in a way their parents cannot.  It is providing them with a collective narrative that celebrates the triumph of a tradition throughout the ages, thereby healing the colonial wounds that their parents bear in memory .  It is also renewing their commitments on an abstract level to humanitarian values and on a pragmatic level toward making France a better place for Muslims and others alike.  Only when secular citizens accomplish for themselves theoretically what France’s new Muslims have accomplished for themselves practically – reconciliation between religion and modernity – will they appreciate how Franco-Muslims are creating a new civic-mindedness through Islamic identification that may benefit the national community-at large. [ From >> ISLAM IN FRANCE : THE SHAPING OF A RELIGIOUS MINORITY, By Jocelyne Cesari, CNRS-France and Harvard University “Islam in France: The Shaping of a Religious Minority,” in Yvonne Haddad-Yazbek (ed.) Muslims in the West, from Sojourners to
Citizens, 2002, Oxford University Press, p 36-51, http://www.social-sciences-and-humanities.com/PDF/islam_in_france.pdf]
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