France has an established reputation as a country of immigration and has received numerous waves of immigrants from the nineteenth century onwards. This book aims to focus on one of these immigrant groups or, rather, on the French-born descendants of North African immigrants of Muslim origin. It looks at three levels of discourse relating to North African immigrants and their descendants. First, the increasingly politicised issue of immigration in France since the 1980s can be seen as just one level of discourse concerning North African immigrants and their descendants. A second level of discourse can be found in the intellectual debates of the last twenty-five years, which have often taken on a rather ideological character. One of the central ideas underpinning the book is the notion of a disjuncture between the main preoccupations of the public and intellectual debates and the experiences of the people concerned. Therefore, by studying the construction of identity among young people of North African origin, the book aims to concentrate on the register of experience. That is, by adopting an empirical or a 'bottom-up' approach, the apparent disjuncture between the various discourses about young people of North African origin and their experiences can be addressed. The views expressed by the young people themselves can be regarded as the third layer of 'discourse' to be examined in the book.
Through its focus on secular Muslim public intellectuals in contemporary France,
this book challenges polarizing accounts of Islam and Muslims, which have been
ubiquitous in political and media debates for the last thirty years. The work of
these intellectuals is significant because it expresses, in diverse ways, an
‘internal’ vision of Islam that demonstrates how Muslim identification and
practices successfully engage with and are part of a culture of secularism
(laïcité). The study of individual secular Muslim intellectuals in contemporary
France thus gives credence to the claim that the categories of religion and the
secular are more closely intertwined than we might assume. This monograph is a
timely publication that makes a crucial contribution to academic and political
debates about the place of Islam and Muslims in contemporary France. The book
will focus on a discursive and contextualised analysis of the published works
and public interventions of Abdelwahab Meddeb, Malek Chebel, Leïla Babès, Dounia
Bouzar and Abdennour Bidar – intellectuals who have received little scholarly
attention despite being well-known figures in France.
This chapter discusses a number of interviewees by way of a 'portrait'. It focuses on those interviewees who can be described as engaging in a process of subjectivity. The chapter also focuses on those interviewees whose experiences are characterised by a more fragmented or precarious subjectivity and considers those interviewees who demonstrate very little subjectivity at all. It argues that Myriam's subjectivity is expressed according to the first two axes of subjectivation (circulation around the three 'poles' of identity and bricolage identitaire). Discrimination is a recurrent theme during the interview with Mahmoud and when asked about the political claims he would make, racism is central in the formulation of his demands. Nabila's 'thwarted' subjectivity is expressed mostly in terms of an unquestioning reproduction of certain roles or models of behaviour. This becomes apparent through her interactions with peers who are also of North African origin.
This chapter focuses on the interviewees' attitudes and experiences regarding two phenomena: electoral politics and alternative modes of political participation, such as in civil society associations. While these are two sites for the possible 'passage' from individual to collective subjectivities, they are not the only ones. One of the questions developed in interviews with young people of North African origin related to revendications, or demands. Interviewees were asked if they had any social or political claims and how they positioned themselves socially and culturally in relation to these. A high proportion of interviewees are involved in associations either as volunteers, employees, or as 'users' of the services associations may provide. Associations can be seen as an alternative, more diffuse mode of political participation which may or may not reflect the emergence of a collective actor or movement in the Tourainian sense of the challenging of unequal power relations.
This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on concepts discussed in the preceding chapters of this book. The book explains a disjuncture between the public and intellectual discourses surrounding populations of immigrant origin and their actual experiences. It shows that the public debates have illustrated a cultural anxiety which has tended to conceptualise young people of North African Muslim origin in terms their integration (in)capacities. The book approaches the question of identity construction among young people of North African origin from a perspective which focuses on the discourses of the actors themselves. It discusses the social and cultural practices of young people of North African origin, focusing on issues such as relationships to the banlieue, employment, relationships to 'culture(s) of origin', language use, religious practices, marriage, self-perception, etc.
The chapter will critically assess Chebel’s thought via an engagement with a
variety of his monographs, essays and articles published in France between
2002 and 2016. Despite the wide range of topics under discussion in Chebel’s
work, it is possible to nevertheless identify a number of recurring themes
such as reason, subjectivity, secularism, the body, love and sexuality in
Islam. His approach could be described as a project of cultural translation,
in which Chebel can be regarded as a cultural mediator who seeks to
productively confront non-Western and Western concepts of religion,
spirituality, modernity and humanism. Of specific significance is Chebel’s
foregrounding of a language of Islamic secularism, which can be interpreted
as an attempt to transform perceptions of Islam and thus to intervene in the
symbolic relationship between the Republican ideology of laïcité and
France’s Muslim citizens.
This chapter brings together all five thinkers discussed in this book and
critically evaluates the public reception of their work. It asks to what
extent the five intellectuals are able to articulate a fully
counter-hegemonic approach in relation to the ambient discourses about
Muslims and Islam in contemporary France. It also briefly discusses their
work in relation to the next generation of emergent Muslim voices in
France’s public sphere.
The Introduction discusses the rationale for a book about secular Muslim
intellectuals in contemporary France. In particular, the Introduction will
demonstrate that most scholarship on Islam in contemporary France has
focused on debates around the Islamic headscarf or questions relating to
Islamic fundamentalism, with little attention paid to those French Muslims
working within the paradigms of islamité and laïcité. The Introduction also
presents the interdisciplinary framing of the book, which will draw on
current theoretical debates in Francophone postcolonial studies, the
sociology and anthropology of Islam and secularisation, and philosophical,
critical religious studies and critical theoretical approaches to themes
such as alterity, belief, cultural pluralism, recognition and subjectivity.
Furthermore, this chapter will discuss the methodology employed in this
study, namely close textual and contextual analysis of the intellectuals’
published works and public interventions.
Public intellectuals as policy experts in times of crisis
The work of Dounia Bouzar and her engagement in the political debates about
Muslims in France raises significant questions about the relationship
between Islam, secularism and feminism. Bouzar could be described as a
Muslim feminist, in that her work has consistently been concerned with what
she calls ‘la condition féminine’, including questions such as the
headscarf, women’s equality in the private and public spheres and, more
recently, the indoctrination of young Muslim women by Islamist groups. This
chapter will focus on Bouzar’s recent writings from a feminist perspective,
taking into account the following themes in particular: disruptive
discourses in the public arena, the notion of la femme-alibi (token woman),
the experiences of women who intervene in the public arena and, finally, the
relationship between feminism and anti-racism.
This chapter will demonstrate why Babès’ contributions are significant, in
that they go well beyond the almost obsessive nature of French public
debates regarding so-called ‘Islamic dress’ – the ‘external’ face of Islam,
with the associated anxieties about women’s bodies and their outward
appearances – to contemplate the ‘interiority’ and lived experience of
Islam, a narrative which runs counter to political constructions or dominant
discursive frameworks of Islam as a monolithic entity in contemporary
France. Her work seeks to articulate a nuanced knowledge of Islam with an
approach that examines the spiritual lives of Muslims, particularly in
contemporary France. One finds throughout her work (in the form of
monographs, essays, media interviews and blogs) a consistent interest in
three aspects of Islam: what Babès refers to as la foi, le rite and la loi,
that is, faith, rituals (practices) and religious law.