It’s hard to imagine Time ever asking this in regard to Christianity in public life, in any country. No, this, they ask, because French secularism keeps butting heads with Islam. Never mind the screaming double standard. Some belief systems, after all, are “more equal than others.”
Do they pepper in other examples? Yes. But would this article have been written if not for the demands of Islam on French society? Unlikely. “Are the French Taking Secularism Too Far?” from Time, August 23:
For most of the 105 years it’s been in force, France’s secularity law has endeavored to segregate private religious belief from the strictly agnostic sphere of public life — usually without too much friction. But that relative harmony has given way to tension and conflict in recent years, as secularists have turned their attention to the spreading influence of Islam, now France’s second largest faith.
Whereas secularism — or laÃ¯citÃ© — traditionally sought to create a wall between religious expression and the public domain, critics claim its defenders have become far more militant. In some cases, that’s creating a zero-sum showdown in which France’s secularists, who dominate public life and debate, are exhibiting a quasi-evangelical zeal in imposing the values of laÃ¯citÃ© on the private observance of religious minorities, particularly Muslims. […]
Private observance? You’d think the French were going into people’s homes and raiding the niqab drawer. No, this debate is about the imposition of Islamic law and sensibilities on public life. Anyway, for good measure, Time throws in a link inviting readers to:
(See pictures of Muslim modernity.)
The most controversial example of secularism’s evolution is the pending French law to ban full-body coverings like the burqa and niqab, whose final passage is expected in October. But that headline-grabbing measure (which will affect only an estimated 370 to 2,000 women) was preceded by the 2004 prohibition of headscarves being worn by Muslim women in public schools. More recently, pundits, bloggers and others have entered a loud public debate over whether the serving of halal beef by fast-food outlets is also a violation of laÃ¯citÃ©. Meanwhile, militants of extreme right- and left-wing groups have banded together under the banner of secularity to stage public gatherings in which attendants eat pork sausage and sip wine — an attempt, organizers say, to send Muslims the message that their religion won’t be tolerated within the tableau of French daily life.
That leads us to another fun Time sidebar:
(See pictures of what people eat around the world.) […]
Later, as the article winds up for the big finish, one must question again whether this article would have been written, or if Diallo’s organization would be so miffed, for the sake of anything other than Islam:
To some observers, such protests sound a lot like secular fundamentalism. “As secularists become more militant, their arguments have gotten less rational and have begun to ring with the righteous conviction you usually associate with religious forces they oppose,” says Rokhaya Diallo, founder of Les Indivisibles, an association that celebrates the diversity of modern France. “My perception of secularity has always been one of protection, of the state and society defending individuals and minority religions from coercion. Now we frequently see the opposite at work.”
(See pictures of Paris expanding.)
Both Diallo and secularism expert BaubÃ©rot attribute the trend to rising secularist concern about the spread of Islam’s influence. That feeling, Diallo laments, has led “people from politicians to ordinary citizens to recognize secularity as an alibi to express increasingly Islamophobic attitudes.” BaubÃ©rot says this is mostly a reaction to France’s wider worries about where its society is headed — so it uses the tradition of secularity to respond to what it regards as the challenge posed by Islam. Only time will tell whether France can establish with Islam the happy balance it generally maintains with other faiths — or whether laÃ¯citÃ© will become synonymous with the state’s interference in how Muslims practice their faith….
Whether Muslims can practice their faith is not at issue — all five pillars are eminently untouched. What is at issue is Islam’s ability to impose itself and its strictures onto French life and society, including the practice of full veiling, and the imposition of halal meat on people who didn’t ask for it. The article speaks of France’s “happy balance” with other beliefs, but Islamic laws demand so much more in the way of accommodation.
As the great non-Frenchman Oliver Wendell Holmes once said: “Your right to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose.”