Today, April 5th, took place in France a National debate on Islam and its place in the secular french Republic – more precisely, the initial debate on Islam in France that was renamed debate on secularism, in order to not stigmatize Islam and Muslims so pointedly. As often pointed out, President Sarkozy attempts with this debate to focus on Muslims in France issues in order to gather voices in prevision of the coming presidential elections. The different institutions representing the six most important religions in France (Catholicism, Protestancism, Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaim, Buddhism) declared they won’t participate, so did left parties. Even inside the presidential party and the government, the debate do not seem to be popular. Result: the announced “natinal debate” was finally no more than a “team meeting” of 10 on 30 ministers.
Were discussed: food in school cafeterias, mixity in hospitals, funding by State for the building of places of worship. The topics mentionned are all related to Islam in France: hallal meat, veil, the lack of mosques forcing Muslims to pray on friday in the streets. Given the context of North African unrest and more particularely of Libyan civil war, the migration trends towards Europe have slightly increased these last months: nothing massive, but due to improper instrumentalisation of the difficult situation faced on the Island of Lampedusa in Italy, Europe and particularly France lives with an rising fear of an invasion coming from South of the Mediteranean Sea, bringing with them poverty, unrest… and Islam. Thus, the debate on secularism and Islam of today was no more a debate: it was almost the first act of a trial where European Muslims and Migrant Muslims were accused of troubling a country that is explicitely insinuating it would look better and more prosperous without all those foreigners or foreigners’ children and all their too much visible foreign habits.
French President Sarkozy has been using and misusing Islam and Muslims in France since the beginning of his political career for electoral reasons. Today, the complete fiasco of his debate on Islam – he certainly expected to see the whole nation participating and thus enhancing a ‘snowball effect’ of explicit hatred towards Muslims that would have been beneficial to him – clearly shows to the world his weak posture: boycotted even by his own Prime Minister. After 3 hours of debate and 26 propositions (including a law on the “interdiction of prevailing religious beliefs on common rules regulating intereactions of public communities and individuals”), what is the real outcome? A further step towards narrow-mindedness of a center-right government shifting dangerously to extremist right-wing.
Nevertheless, if Sarkozy’s aggressive communication style and political skulduggery might have killed any hope for him to win the 2012 elections, his philosophy was deeply implemented in France these last years and is shared, consciously or unconsciously, on the minds of the majority of the French people. The people might well be annoyed by the President’s trick of using secularism for political reasons, still, when asked directly the questions that will be debated, a high percentage of people stick to quite islamophobic points of view, behind that same excuse of “secularism”: 42% of French consider Islam as a threat and 55% think Muslims are too much visible in France. When the French Minister of interior newly appointed Claude Guéant (life long Sarkozy’s ‘âme damnée‘, like we say in french) says that “The increase of the number of Muslims in France [...] is a problem”, there is merely none but the Muslims themselves or some dedicated associations (SOS Racism, MRAP) seem to be shocked or even paying attention to what one or two decades ago would have caused a French Minister to resign due to popular pressure. Last time a French ruler was pronouncing similar words, it was the General Pétain under the Vichy regime, talking about the Jews.
Shame for a country that deteriorated from nineteenth century “France des Lumières” (France of Enlightment) to twenty-first century “France des Ténèbres” (France of Darkness).