There has been a lot in the news the past week about France, its so-called “secular policy” and a recent ban on burkinis in Cannes. This is yet another example of an Islamophobic, discriminatory ideology that is not secular in any sense in relation to freedom, justice and democracy – three words it is usually described and presented in relation to.
Let’s have a look at what secularism is supposed to be. According to the Oxford dictionary, secularism is defined as:
The principle of separation of the state from religious institutions: ‘he believes that secularism means no discrimination against anybody in the name of religion‘
Now, as a translator, I usually refuse to translate France’s policy of laïcité to “secularism” when translating into English. No, this is not a political bias as a translator – it is simply the truth. Laïcité is a whole different political policy of its own and not what we in Anglophone countries equate with secularism. There is a key core ideological difference:
- Secularism: non-discrimination, the lack of political power/influence over one’s religion and vice versa
- Laïcité: not simply separating state and politics. This principle is the banning of religion from the public sphere, in all senses. “Privatising” personal religion and refusing to acknowledge/understand religious identity/belonging.
I always compare it to being more of “State atheism” – but of course with a Catholic bias in the case of France. I spent six years at university studying – amongst other things – French language, culture, politics and aditionally human rights. Before even becoming a Muslim, I was convinced that France was Islamophobic. Before marrying an Algerian… Before the new line of laws which just keep hitting Muslims… Before the ever worsening regression of religious freedom and increase in Islamophobic politics…
In order to keep this short, just consider these examples of the treatment of religious communities – essentially affecting largely Muslim women and girls – and see if this sounds like secularism, freedom, democracy and justice…
1. Banning burkinis on the beach for unfounded reasons of “hygiene”, “safety” and “secularism” (see here and here) which essentially rules out swimming for a groups of (Muslim) women like myself (Cannes – I won’t be visiting next summer by the way!)
Image: Elizabeth Arif-Fear (c)
2. Banning facial coverings (niqabs, burqas) – meaning innocent Muslim women cannot wear face veils unless they want to face a fine and/or imprisonment (see here)
3. Banning “conspicuous” religious symbols in schools such as headscarves and for those “delivering a public service”, which means either removing your kippa, Sikh turban or hijab or removing yourself from the Republican sphere; i.e. be taught at home, work from home or go to a Muslim/Islamic school (see here and here)
This is the model that Turkey used to base its headscarf policy on. I myself have direct experience of this having being informed I could not teach in my headscarf when I applied for a teaching post. I therefore withdraw my application. Fortunately things seem to have changed in Turkey. Clearly, I was out to indoctrinate the students during English class by being myself whilst teaching girls who they themselves had the right to cover their heads and were Muslim… Glad to see, things have changed a little in Turkey at least!
Things have become so extreme in France, that a young Muslim girl was recently told that her maxi skirt was “too religious”, resulting in her being banned from the school.
Now just ask yourself these questions:
- Does this sound like non-discrimination?
- Does this sound like freedom?
- Does this sound fair?
- Does this sound rational?
For me, that’s a big, fat NO! It must be said:
France: laïcité is not secularism! Please stop pretending your République functions for the benefit of the people according to liberté, égalité et fraternité. It doesn’t! What it is is:
Islamophobic, hypocritical and nothing less!
Feature image: Lisecher