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Old and new conceptions of secularism in France

jeudi 9 septembre 2004

Three years ago, Jacques Chirac, the president of France, was elected by more than 80% of the votes. When he talks about the « Republic », the « French values of democracy and secularism », he is trying to use nationalism as a cement between the different classes - and it is a very efficient political trick. Nationalism was an important political element of the French Revolution, the Paris Commune and the Second World War Resistance, an element shared by most left-wing tendencies until today. The French Communist Party during the Second World War claimed to be the « Party of Joan of Arc » - a symbol for the extreme right. The National Front organises a special rally every year to praise this woman who « led the fight against foreign invasion » - and everybody understands who the modern « invaders » are.

Revolutionaries have to oppose and denounce all this abstract propaganda about the « Republic », « the defence of secularism », « Fatherlandism », the « French exception », etc., because it only fosters nationalism among the majority of French workers who already support the right and the extreme right parties with their votes or racist attitudes. That does not mean revolutionaries should be indifferent to basic democratic rights, but the struggle for democratic rights should be separated from the defence of the bourgeois State.

Strangely, today, a new form of nationalist secularism is appearing among French young Muslims.

All sorts of young men turn to islam : juvenile delinquents, drug addicts, teenagers who have difficulties at school and feel rejected by French society, and obviously, probably the immense majority, adolescents who are looking for their « roots » and who respect their family religion. Whatever their individual motives may be, their strict observance of Muslim prescriptions leads them to control the behaviour, clothing and private life of their girlfriends, mothers and sisters, as well as of all the young girls and women living in working class suburbs. These young males have all sorts of political opinions, anti-imperialist, djihadist, republican, left-wing or right-wing, etc. But most of them, inspired by Tarik Ramadan, try to catch the French state ideology to its own game.

At the same time an other interesting phenomenon is happening : a minority of educated young women try to invent a new kind of secularist-republican version of Islam. They want to be respected by their parents or brothers, as well as by all the institutions and the rest of French people. These Muslim women use some hadiths of the Qoran to fight against the traditional and sexist ideas of their parents.

French Muslim « citoyennisme »* is a strange form of multiculturalism. These Muslims want to be the « best citizens » and the « best Muslims », as they say. They say that they are proud that their parents or grand-parents died for France and at the same time they denounce French colonial wars. They forget that in all the colonial wars « indigenous » soldiers were involved and took the side of French imperialism. They forget that the First and Second World Wars were imperialist wars. In Indochina, for example, Africans and North African soldiers fought against the Vietnamese in the ranks of the French Army.

They praise so much the French flag that the only demonstrations where you may see a tide of French flags are the National Front’s demonstrations or the political muslims’ demonstrations, whether they are islamists or « citoyennistes* » .

These political currents have invented a new definition of French secularism, very different from its initial meaning : secularism is presented today as the best way for different religions to live harmoniously together. Qoran is considered as a source of inspiration for human rights, women’s rights, ecology, ethic business and democracy.

These new Muslim secularists are accused of being disguised islamists, admirers of khomeynism, etc. (That may be the case for a tiny minority, but in this case they will never gain an important political space in French society.) This ideology is adapting multiculturalism to French society (the systematic use of the words « deconstruct » and « deconstruction » in their writings is quite significant). This form of multiculturalism may have much more political future than a French kind of djihadism. And it’s important that revolutionaries denounce this multiculturalism as a confused nationalist ideology dressed in pseudo-anti-imperialist clothes. It’s essential that revolutionaries put forward their own ideas about secularism, religion, imperialism today, instead of just recalling the virtues of 18th-century Enlightment and 19th-century bourgeois-republican secularism.

It’s vital that we recall the importance of social classes in front of people who only talk about identity problems, as if the class struggle had ceased to exist.

« Citoyennisme » comes from « citoyen » , citizen. This ideology is an extreme form of republicanism, which worships the bourgeois State and its institutions.

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