Toleration and laïcité
France is an indivisible, laïque, democratic and social republic. It ensures equality of all citizens before the law with no distinction made on the basis of origin,
race or religion. It respects all beliefs.
(Article 2 of 1958 Constitution)
In September 1989, three schoolgirls wearing the traditional Muslim headscarf were barred from entering a school near Paris, and later expelled. The
headmaster claimed to be applying a long-established republican rule prohibiting religious symbols
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.
series of high-profile polemics about the signification of the headscarf and how
it should be ‘managed’ in a secular state such as France. The issue was temporarily
resolved in 1989 when the then socialist Ministre de l’Éducation Lionel Jospin
argued that the headscarf should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, a position
that was backed up by the highest court in the land, the Conseil d’État, which
argued that headscarves were not, in themselves, contradictory to the principles
of laïcité. However, the controversy resurfaced in 1994 when the centrist Ministre
Republican ideology of
laïcité and France’s Muslim citizens.
The chapter will critically assess his work via engagement with a range of
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 nevertheless possible to identify a number of recurring themes such as reason, subjectivity,
secularism, the body, love and sexuality in Islam. Chebel’s publications range
from essays, monographs and scholarly debates (e.g. Chebel and Godin 2011) to
the more didactic or popular education texts
The idea of toleration as the appropriate response to difference has been central to liberal thought since Locke. Although the subject has been widely and variously explored, there has been reluctance to acknowledge the new meaning that current debates offer on toleration. This book starts from a clear recognition of the new terms of the debate, reflecting the capacity of seeing the other's viewpoint, and the limited extent to which toleration can be granted. Theoretical statements on toleration posit at the same time its necessity in democratic societies, and its impossibility as a coherent ideal. There are several possible objections to, and ways of developing the ideal of, reasonable tolerance as advocated by John Rawls and by some other supporters of political liberalism. The first part of the book explores some of them. In some real-life conflicts, it is unclear on whom the burden of reasonableness may fall. This part discusses the reasonableness of pluralism, and general concept and various more specific conceptions of toleration. The forces of progressive politics have been divided into two camps: redistribution and recognition. The second part of the book is an attempt to explore the internal coherence of such a transformation when applied to different contexts. It argues that openness to others in discourse, and their treatment as free and equal, is part of a kind of reflexive toleration that pertains to public communication in the deliberative context. Social ethos, religious discrimination and education are discussed in connection with tolerance.
, ‘Signposts and Silences’, p. 306.
4 Sugrue and Gleeson, ‘Signposts and Silences’, p. 306.
5 For a comparative analysis and questioning of the stereotypes related to these two
‘models’ in the areas of ‘laïcité’ and ‘multi-denominationalism’ in particular, read
Jeffrey Hopes, ‘Le Laïc et le multiconfessionnel: les modèles français et britannique
sont-ils compatibles?’, in Thomas Ferenczi (ed.), Religion et politique: une liaison dangereuse? (Paris: Éditions Complexe, 2003), pp. 167–72.
6 For example Didier Lassalle, L’Intégration au Royaume-Uni: réussite et limites du
The intellectuals discussed in this book have all enjoyed varying degrees of impact
and notoriety in France but if they share one thing in common, it is that their
work collectively contributes to a broad narrative of le vivre ensemble. They all
present Islam as being capable of conforming to Republican laïcité and universalism, although they argue that the practices of Muslims do not always facilitate
such potential compatibility. These scholars are thus, to varying degrees, critical
of certain aspects of contemporary Islam and Muslims for what
In May 1958, and four years into the Algerian War of Independence, a revolt again appropriated the revolutionary and republican symbolism of the French Revolution by seizing power through a Committee of Public Safety. This book explores why a repressive colonial system that had for over a century maintained the material and intellectual backwardness of Algerian women now turned to an extensive programme of 'emancipation'. After a brief background sketch of the situation of Algerian women during the post-war decade, it discusses the various factors contributed to the emergence of the first significant women's organisations in the main urban centres. It was only after the outbreak of the rebellion in 1954 and the arrival of many hundreds of wives of army officers that the model of female interventionism became dramatically activated. The French military intervention in Algeria during 1954-1962 derived its force from the Orientalist current in European colonialism and also seemed to foreshadow the revival of global Islamophobia after 1979 and the eventual moves to 'liberate' Muslim societies by US-led neo-imperialism in Afghanistan and Iraq. For the women of Bordj Okhriss, as throughout Algeria, the French army represented a dangerous and powerful force associated with mass destruction, brutality and rape. The central contradiction facing the mobile socio-medical teams teams was how to gain the trust of Algerian women and to bring them social progress and emancipation when they themselves were part of an army that had destroyed their villages and driven them into refugee camps.
The public debates of the 1980s, 1990s and twenty-first century
the expulsion of three Muslim pupils who refused to remove their
headscarves in a collège in Creil. The head teacher in question believed
that their refusal amounted to an assault on the Republic’s secular
principles of laïcité.17 In December 1989, only a few days after the FN’s
victory in local elections held in Dreux, where one of the main campaign aims of the victorious Mme Stirbois was to end ‘the colonization
Immigration: public and intellectual discourses
of France by Arab immigrants’, a new government post of SecretaryGeneral for Integration was
western political liberalism. Taguieff aligns multiculturalism with
communautarisme and argues that ‘warrior communities’, ‘undeclared
enemies’ and ‘veiled enemies’ are trying to surreptitiously undermine
the Republican model of liberal pluralism through their defence of ‘la
laïcité plurielle’ or ‘la nouvelle laïcité’ (Taguieff 2005: 11, 19, 20, 23–24,
27). As in the debates of the 1980s and 1990s, the USA still serves as
the societal anti-model par excellence yet, paradoxically, the philosophical
debates of North America are still a key reference in Taguieff ’s