Tuesday, March 29, 2011

France, Libya and Laïcité

The scholars Jonathan Laurence and Justin Vaisse weigh in on the recent about-face by European leaders over mutliculturalism. The article's thrust is that the moves made by Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron are 'tacking to the right' in order to drain far-right voters toward their bases, and that such bald ploys only serve to undo decades of effort at integrating Europe's Muslims. These and other leaders only "savage a straw man" in attacking multiculturalism, and shoot themselves in the foot in the process. Below is a snapshot of the article's multiple thematic threads.

"The anti-immigrant opinions first voiced in late 20th-century Europe increased in intensity during the terrorism jitters of the 2000s and have been reinforced by burgeoning anti-Islam sentiment during the 2010s. What's happening is that the deleterious political impact of the 2008-2009 economic crises is now being felt, and the result is a sizeable populist wave throughout Western Europe.
This wave generally takes the form of extreme right parties -- even though some of them, like in the Netherlands and Britain, incorporate liberal elements like the defense of gay rights and women's rights. (The English Defence League has both Jewish and gay branches.) All of these populist movements, however, have one feature in common: they are explicitly anti-Islam. Just as anti-Semitism was the common denominator of populist movements in the 1930s, the single-minded focus on Muslim immigration has become the defining trait of anti-establishment parties in today's Europe. The logical effect is to push the center-right parties to the right, for fear of losing their constituency.
And tack right they have. In Germany, Merkel's speech was designed to catch up with the national debate sparked by Thilo Sarrazin's bestselling book, Germany Does Away With Itself,  as well as with an assertive nativist wing of her governing coalition. Sarrazin, a former Bundesbank board member originally from the Social-Democrat SPD party, has sold more than a million copies of his book, which denounces the dumbing-down of Germany through Muslim immigration. In Britain, Cameron must keep an eye on his populist wing as well as the British National Party. In the Netherlands, Prime Minister Mark Rutte is cracking down on headscarf wearing and other behavioral signs of Muslim religiosity among state employees and unemployment check recipients in exchange for the parliamentary support of Geert Wilders's anti-Islam faction. In France, Nicolas Sarkozy, who successfully courted voters from Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front in 2007 by broaching the theme of "national identity," kept the flame alive with an official debate on the subject in 2009 and another on the wearing of the burka in 2010. This spring, his UMP party announced yet another debate on "Islam and laïcité" -- as France calls its official policy of religious neutrality.
 The laïcité debate follows on the heels of Sarkozy's aggressive maneuvering in the Libya crisis and may try to bring the French voice on Islam closer to home, in a sense. If the French populace can engage with high-profile political figures and thinkers on the current events of the Muslim world and how they might think about these things as a country, a laïcité discussion may center the discordant voices on whether France should be as active as it currently is. EurAmerican follows religious trends closely, so watch this space for more on how this debate develops in France and elsewhere.


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