The French Left and Islam: Liberty, Equality and Islamophobia Include The Latest Legal Assault on Hijab
10 Janaury 2015
By Bob Pitt
November hundreds of self-styled patriots took to the
streets of Paris to denounce "Islamist fascism".
Chanting that the mainstream Muslim federation, the
Union des organisations islamiques de France, are
fascists who should be treated as garbage, they
brandished placards with slogans such as "Islam out of
the Louvre" (a new exhibition of Islamic art had just
opened at the Louvre Museum) and "No to the
Islamisation of Alsace-Lorraine".
attracted support from a range of far-right groups.
However, in contrast to similar protests organised by
the English Defence League (EDL) in the UK, the outfit
behind this demonstration, Résistance Républicaine,
claims that most of its founding members have their
roots in the French left. Its leader, Christine Tasin,
was once a member of Jean-Pierre Chevènement's
Mouvement républicain et citoyen, a left-wing split
from the Socialist Party.
Républicaine is an initiative of Riposte Laïque, a
fiercely Islamophobic website whose founder, Pierre
Cassen, was convicted by a Paris court in March this
year of inciting hatred against Muslims. Hailed as a
hero of free speech by the extreme right, he was a
platform speaker at a "counter-jihad" conference at
the European Parliament in July, along with EDL leader
Stephen Lennon. Cassen is a former member of the Ligue
communiste révolutionnaire, a Trotskyist organisation
that is now part of the Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste
Républicaine gained a notable recruit a couple of
years ago in the person of Fabien Engelmann, a trade
unionist with a long record of political activism,
first in the far-left group Lutte Ouvrière and then in
the NPA. Engelmann broke from the NPA in disgust at
its decision to stand a hijab-wearing candidate, Ilham
Moussaïd, in the 2010 regional elections. He went on
to join Marine Le Pen's Front National, expressing
admiration for its stand against Muslims and migrants,
and is now a member of its political bureau while also
remaining a supporter of Résistance Républicaine.
was not the only NPA member to condemn Ilham
Moussaïd's candidacy. The party was split down the
middle over the issue, with a substantial section
arguing that standing a Muslim woman in a headscarf
for public office was an attack on secular and
feminist principles. Some even accused Moussaïd of
seeking to Islamise the party.
As a result
she and her supporters resigned from the NPA, stating
that they could not remain in an organisation to which
many of their so-called comrades clearly believed they
had no right to belong. The 2011 NPA conference
subsequently rejected a motion calling for the
prohibition of any further candidates wearing
headscarves by a majority of just two votes.
left generally has a problem with "le voile" (a term
that includes both the headscarf and face veil).
Nicolas Sarkozy took credit for pushing through the
"burqa ban" that came into force last year, and it was
undoubtedly the political right, not least Marine Le
Pen, who gained from this manufactured controversy
over the issue of veiled Muslim women. However, the
initiator of the legislation was a Communist Party
politician, André Gerin, who claimed to be acting in
the name of secular values and gender equality.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the Front de gauche candidate in
this year's presidential election, also backed the
Underpinning the left's attitude to Islam is their
support for a distinctively French interpretation of
secularism (laïcité) that requires not merely the
separation of church and state but the effective
exclusion of religion from the public sphere. However,
this secularist culture hasn't prevented systematic
official discrimination in favour of the Catholic
faith of the white majority.
In 2005 the
same French government that had just banned the hijab
from state schools, on the grounds that it was
necessary to uphold neutrality in matters of religion,
ordered all public buildings to fly their flags at
half mast following the death of the Pope. Sarkozy
engaged in the same double talk, justifying the veil
ban as a defence of the nation's secular traditions
while at the same time giving speeches about the
"Christian heritage of France".
disorientation over the issue of Islam has disarmed
much of the French left in the face of the current
wave of hatred directed against their country's Muslim
population (see Richard Prices's articles in the
November Labour Briefing). It is difficult for
socialists to attack the racist right for whipping up
this poisonous atmosphere of anti-Muslim bigotry when
the left has made its own significant contribution to
the rise of Islamophobia in France.
a meeting in
London earlier this year, Marwan Mohamed of the Collectif contre
observed that things are much better here in the
UK, where the
left established a close relationship with Muslim
communities during a common struggle against the Iraq
war. Yet there are hardline secularists in
some of them active in the labour movement, whose
claim to oppose all forms of religious belief doesn't
prevent them from aligning themselves with the right
in portraying Islam as a particular threat to
experience should stand as a warning of the disastrous
consequences that follow when the left adapts to the
prevailing mood of Islamophobia.
France: The Latest Legal Assault On
Hijab - French Draft Law Aims To Ban Hijab For Child
controversy surrounding the Islamic headscarf in
France is making headlines again as the French
National Assembly studies a draft law that will ban
religious symbols in all facilities catering for
children, including nannies and childcare assistants
looking after children at home.
The draft law was approved by the French Senate
with a large majority on Jan. 17 and it was sent to
the National Assembly to be ratified before being
signed it into law by the president.
"Unless otherwise specified in a contract with
the individual employer, a childcare assistant is
subject to an obligation of neutrality in religious
matters in the course of childcare activity," reads
the text of the draft law introduced by Françoise
Laborde, a senator from the Radical Party of the Left.
"Parents have the right to want a nanny who is
neutral from a religious perspective," the left-wing
senator was quoted as saying by ANSAmed news agency.
Critics of the draft law say Laborde is
targeting Muslim nannies and childcare assistants.
The senator said that she was "encouraged to
act" after a private nursery, Baby Loup, fired an
employee who refused to remove her Islamic headscarf.
In Oct. 27, 2011, the appeals court in
Versailles upheld the decision to expel the employee as lawful.
"The recent ruling of the Court of Appeal of
Versailles in favor of Baby Loup is in the right
direction, and I hope that this case is translated
into law," Laborde said in December 20011.
Djamila, a childcare assistant, told Rue89
French website it is "absolutely not her role" to
speak of religion with kids. "We look after children
of younger three years. Can you you tell me what can
they understand at that age?"
An analyst in secularism, Jean Baubérot, wrote
in a blog posted on the website Mediapart, that he was
outraged by the brandishing of secularism in what he
described was a law discriminatory against Muslims.
He accused the ruling Union for Popular
Movement and the interior minister Claude Guéant of
having torn secularism's principle of "religious
freedom" by reviving links between religion and the
state while at same time cracking down on individuals'
links with religion.