Paris — July 19, 2008: The American press is upset that France denied citizenship to a fundamentalist Moroccan Muslim woman who wears the niqab, a facial mask which only lets the eyes show. First, there is the question of what it means to be a French citizen. Second, there is the European fear of letting the wolf in the back door.
In France you are either a citizen or a foreigner. Census does not take race or religion into account. The French have no way of knowing how many French citizens are Blacks (of African or Caribbean descent which must also not be confused). They only have an approximate idea of how many Muslims there are.
Secularism goes very deep into the French Republic. The separation of Church and State is ‘sacred’. Religious symbols are banned in schools and public administrations. Job and housing discrimination is punishable by law. The values of Equality are enshrined in the Constitution, and this includes equality of the sexes. This is the law, no matter what the reality of practice is. There is no way the French could grant nationality to a woman whose life went contrary to all of these values.
Just as the French High Court has rejected a Muslim man’s divorce request because he says his wife lied when she said she was a virgin. Lying about your sexuality is not a crime in France and Virginity is not a pre-condition for marriage. Christian Europe moved beyond such conditions for divorce when Henry VIII was denied his divorce with the Spaniard Catharine. And the French do not want to go back.
The problem is there are large communities from African and Arab immigration in European countries who have not adapted to the ‘values’ of the countries they now live in. Many do not even speak the language which European governments say is a precondition to integration.
The French go much further. They reject the notion of integration which implies people can maintain their ‘differences’ and which they fear will hurt social cohesion and an equal chance in life. The French favor assimilation. You become French. You are French. Point final! At least on paper.
The second factor concerns the dangers in these countries posed by radical and/or marginalized elements who have taken lives, led (allowed) governments to impose tough laws and police policies and even forced some to go into hiding because they had exercised their right to Free Speech.
It is not just the bombs. The Danish press is threatened in Denmark for publishing cartoons. A French philosophy teacher goes into hiding with police protection for an opinion piece he published in Le Figaro newspaper. A Berlin opera is cancelled. Salmon Rushdie still cannot come out in the open. A Dutch film maker is murdered and a member of the Dutch parliament (naturalized Somali woman) needs police protection and the list goes on.
These things are not happening in Islamic countries. They are happening in Europe.
Many European citizens are beginning to believe Islam is incompatible with the values they hold dear. More and more people feel they have surrendered too much in the name of tolerance and respect of difference. Distrust, even racism is growing.
European fear of Islam goes far back. Before Mohammed was dead, he was attacking neighboring tribes, Jews and Christians. Within 150 years of his death Islamic armies were as far North as Poitiers, France. It took nearly 800 years for Europeans to push the Muslim Armies out of Spain.
Then they attacked Byzantium and went as far North as Vienna before the gradual push back. Many Greeks feel the part of Thrace inside Turkey is still occupied territory. Europe’s history with Islam is one of violence.
Critics of Islam point to references in the Qaran concerning martyrdom for fighting the infidels, violence towards wives, death to converts from Islam to Christianity, polygamy, although outlawed in Europe is widely practiced, and so on.
The rising tide of alienation between ethnic Europeans and Muslims is not limited to France. I am not at all convinced that greater tolerance of differences counter to the traditional values of Europeans will produce social peace. The contrary is probable. Perhaps it is too late.
p.s. The Humanist Revolution of the Renaissance which ushered in so many of the ideas that give us the freedoms we consider our values today came from Christians using the Bible. They revolted against the Church leadership in the name of the Church.