Anthropologist John Bowen argues in the San Francisco Chronicle for the unfashionable view that, even with the problems of integration that have been on public display in recent years, France represents the best hope for peaceful coexistence between Muslim and non-Muslim.
I must confess that I am not a fan of the French brand of secularism, laïcité. In this I’m a unrepetent American imperialist, with little patience for those who subordinate individual rights in matters of faith in the name of perceived national interests. I think such concessions eventually result in the tyrrany of the majority and homogenization.
Still, Bowen does makes some intriguing points.
Are these positive trends evidence of successful integration or genuine respect for Muslims and Islam on the part of Muslims or non-Muslim Frenchmen, respectively? Or are they perhaps the result of the Muslims leaving a vital part of themselves at the door in order to be accepted and the French mainstream having, thus, been sheltered from truly confronting la différence?
Europe and Islam seem to be pushing each other further apart. [...] One bright light stands out against the general gloom, and it is France. Highly unlikely, right? France saw nationwide riots just more than a year ago. The 2004 French law banning head scarves from public schools set off a Europe-wide campaign against Islamic dress, and attacks against Muslims continue. The bright light comes not from particularly enlightened government policies but from the attitudes of ordinary Muslims and non-Muslims in France. They are far more willing to get on with the task of building a multireligious society than are the Dutch, British or Spanish — or even Americans.