What’s the opposite of Islamism?

What’s the opposite of Islamism? August 25, 2016; Toni Frissell [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Secularism, apparently.

What, did you think that the fears of an Islamicist threat in Europe would bring the natives back to Christianity?

I have yet to read any articles suggesting any revival in Christianity, either in belief or in practice, in Europe, as a result of the ISIS and Islamist threat (reports such as this one notwithstanding).

To the contrary, the “burkini” ban is justified in language that could apply to anyone with distinctive dress due to religion (yes, even nuns).  Any form of dress that’s “contrary to secularism” is forbidden.

Now, granted, I’m all for a true “burqa ban” — that is, I think it’s entirely appropriate to ban the covering of one’s face in public.  It’s a matter of public safety, and applies equally to the burqa and niqab, the KKK hood, and wearing a ski mask into a convenience store.  (It would be likewise appropriate to carve out limited exceptions such as, in fact, ski masks while skiing or due to winter weather.)

But to say that when the constituent parts of one’s dress-on-a-beach — long pants, long-sleeved shirt, and a hair covering — are illegal because they identify one as a religious adherent, well, it clearly offends our American sensibilities, but seems entirely satisfactory to those enacting these laws.

Here, courtesy the BBC, is the actual language of the ban:

“Access to beaches and for swimming is banned to any person wearing improper clothes that are not respectful of accepted customs and secularism”

“Beachwear which ostentatiously displays religious affiliation, when France and places of worship are currently the target of terrorist attacks, is liable to create risks of disrupting public order”

Exactly how “improper clothes” are defined isn’t clear — can a woman wear a headscarf but a short-sleeved shirt?  Or a full long sleeves but a swim cap that’s separate?  I haven’t seen anything on this element.

But if you think that the French supporters of this ban are going to rethink it upon being reminded that it affects nuns in habits, you’re mistaken.  This ban is not a sudden turnabout, or due to a history of targeting Islam.  They have a strict policy of secularization that makes the US version toothless, and seem to be increasingly of the opinion that the way to integrate Muslims is with public secularism.  As The Economist writes,

France adheres to a strict form of secularism, known as laïcité, which is designed to keep religion out of public life. This principle was entrenched by law in 1905, after fierce anti-clerical struggles with the Roman Catholic church. Today, the lines are in some ways blurred. The French maintain, for instance, certain Catholic public holidays, such as Ascension. But on the whole, secular rules prevail. It would be unthinkable in France, for example, to stage a nativity play in a state primary school, or for a president to be sworn in on a Bible.

Over the past 30 years, in response to a growing assertiveness among the country’s 5–6 million Muslims, the focus of this effort to balance religious and secular needs has shifted to Islam. After a decade of legal uncertainty over the wearing of the headscarf in state schools, the French government in 2004 banned all “conspicuous” religious symbols, including the Muslim headscarf, from public institutions such as state schools or town halls. This was followed in 2010 by what the French call the “burqa ban”, outlawing the full face covering in public. Critics accuse France of illiberalism, of curbing freedom of religious expression, and of imposing a Western interpretation of female oppression. Amnesty International, for example, called the 2014 recent European court ruling “a profound retreat for the right to freedom of expression and religion”. For the French, however, it is part of an unapologetic effort to keep religious expression private, and to uphold the country’s republican secular identity. Interestingly, many moderate Muslim leaders also back the ban as a bulwark against hard-line Islam.

Bottom line:  whether you agree or disagree with the French, there’s more going on than just harassing Muslim women.


Image:; Toni Frissell [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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