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.
On 7 January 2015 the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris were attacked during the magazine’s weekly editorial meeting, leading to the deaths of twelve of its staff. The attack sparked an unprecedented debate about freedom of speech both internationally and in France, and about the Republican values of laïcité (French secularism) that Charlie Hebdo has been portrayed as representing. The literature that emerged immediately in the aftermath of the attack centred around several dramatic moments such as the ‘Je Suis Charlie’ slogan, the Republican marches of 10
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
tone for a wider debate
in the country – one that national discourse has often taken pride in its tradition of
secularism or laïcité – about minority
rights and integration. The headscarf has come to be the visible
symbol of Islam and, in many instances, framed as a threat to a
constructed French of way of life, with the debate continuing to
today. Discussing the place of a
, ‘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
Nationalism has reasserted itself today as the political force of our times, remaking European politics wherever one looks. Britain is no exception, and in the midst of Brexit, it has even become a vanguard of nationalism's confident return to the mainstream. Brexit, in the course of generating a historically unique standard of sociopolitical uncertainty and constitutional intrigue, tore apart the two-party compact that had defined the parameters of political contestation for much of twentieth-century Britain. This book offers a wide-ranging picture of the different theoretical accounts relevant to addressing nationalism. It briefly repudiates the increasingly common attempts to read contemporary politics through the lens of populism. The book explores the assertion of 'muscular liberalism' and civic nationalism. It examines more traditional, conservative appeals to racialised notions of blood, territory, purity and tradition as a means of reclaiming the nation. The book also examines how neoliberalism, through its recourse to discourses of meritocracy, entrepreneurial self and individual will, alongside its exaltation of a 'points-system' approach to the ills of immigration, engineers its own unique rendition of the nationalist crisis. There are a number of important themes through which the process of liberal nationalism can be documented - what Arun Kundnani captured, simply and concisely, as the entrenchment of 'values racism'. These include the 'faux-feminist' demonisation of Muslims.
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.