French Islamophobia and the problem of modernity

The modern French republic has a long history of attempting to Francize Islam according to the French prejudice and understanding of the principles of secularism or laicite, equality, and the French concept of refinement. Historically, such attempts have either resulted in the ostracization of Muslims or in the abuse of executional powers like denying the right to practice Islam and develop the intellectual and cultural identity of Muslim.

The infamous experiments by the French republic include former presidents and prime ministers demanding the re-edition of the Quran, the ban on the veil, and Niqab in public places.

And statements like “Islam is in global crisis” made by the incumbent French President Emmanuel Macron along with the French government’s decision to proscribe the preeminent Islamic publishing institution, Nawa Editions, are the recent additions to the French Islamophobia.

France’s right-wing interior minister, Gerald Darmanin tweeted against a Muslim publication house, Nawa Editions, alleging it of selling books that promote Islamic history through Muslim figures who fought in the name of faith, like the biography of the seventh-century Muslim military commander Khalid-Ibn-Al-Walid. He also accused Nawa Edition’s editorial to be “Anti-Universalist and in direct contestation of western values.”

In response, Nawaeedition’s statement condemned the “purely political” decision by the state and expressed their alarm at the “drift” of the French political model “towards executive dissolutions of Muslim organizations without due process.”

There have been consistent efforts by the French government to debilitate the French Muslim community and their efforts to empower the French Muslim community on all facets. During a high-profile speech on secularism and Islam last October, French President Emmanuel Macron said that “ Islam is a religion which is experiencing a crisis today, all over the world”, and there was a need to “free Islam from France from foreign influences.”

Two months later the French government unveiled draft legislation to combat what it terms “Islamist separatism” or the ideological enemy of the republic. The bill gives the government and the executive unilateral powers to shut down Muslim establishments, institutions, and to detain any person without judicial scrutiny on firsthand.

While discussing the series of efforts made by the French authorities and public figures to Francize or modernize Islam, it is quintessential to critically examine the segregating nature of French modernity and its attempt to de-authorize the Islamic intellectual and their cultural agency. And how this impacted Muslim life and its apparent involvement in the global discourses on the question of justice must be studied.

It would be insurmountable to understand the basis of this violent and unjust treatment of Muslims, blacks, and other indigenous civilizations in Europe without scrutinizing the cultural and ideological ideals of European refined white-man-centric modernity. And for this, the nature of the modern French republic must be analysed along with their attempts to de-authorize and modernize Islam, which eventually leads to the exclusion of Islamic culture and expatriation of the Muslim population.

In this circumstance, we start by examining the nature of modernity and precisely what the French modern republic means by using the terms liberty, freedom, and secularism. And while interpreting this question, it’s predetermined to examine whether the non-white cultures and their mode of knowledge productions come under the ambit of the terms secularism and liberty.

Winin Pereira in his celebrated work, The Global Parasites, points out that the basic principles which stand as the fundamental base work of European modern nations such as liberty, equality, fraternity, secularism, and democracy, functions by centering refined people according to the concept of liberal humanism and its understanding by the European renaissance. In other terms, the concept of secularism, liberty, freedom, equality, and democracy has never been a right or privilege of the people who choose to follow a non-white centric philosophy or civilization, and neither the concept of natural justice is rendered for their intellectual and historical attempts to re-define the concept of civilization and justice.

This observation made by Winin Pereira is crucial because it gives us an insight into the basic nature and structure of modern European nation-states. While Islam has always been a critic of modernity’s concept of civilization and justice, the European modern nation-states have always been reluctant to accept the political and intellectual agency of Islam and Muslims as a democratic counter-narrative and decried the political intelligentsia of Muslims. Apart from Islam, it is worth to point that, European nation-states have always been reluctant to accept any other cultural and intellectual contributions and have been harsh towards their attempt to assert their cultural identity-related symbols as normal and the injustice they suffered from European white Man’s “Universal Culture and its expressions as well as from their criminal justice system.”

While discussing the centuries-old forms of racial violence in the European continent, American historian Matti Bunzl observes that during the period of world wars and also in the contemporary period, the fundamental nature of the right to freedom which is exercised in Europe has been intolerant towards the oriental and African cultural expressions, especially towards Jews until the defeat of Nazi Germany in world war II, and has been violent towards Islamic community and towards their demand for justice, and since after the 9/11 attack, the European and American governments have gained tremendous recognition for suppressing Muslim political and social engagements and have successes in terrorizing the Muslim academics involvement and have initiated large scale attempts to erase the Islamic spiritual texts and the Muslimness it produces.

The recent decision made by the French government should be seen from this angle, which is conspicuously an attempt to erase the religious and cultural identity and Muslimness of French Muslims. To succumb before such a nefarious experiment would mean that such experiments are efficient to suppress the political spirituality and the empowerment of Muslims, and would set a precedent before the world which would be fuel to the Islamophobic experiments worldwide.