The root cause of the opposition to Islam in French society stems from a reluctance among descendants of colonisers to accept the assertive voices of descendants of those who were colonised, according to eminent French political scientist, Francois Burgat.
The sons of the colonisers do not want to accept the fact that the sons of the colonised raise their voice and ask for their rights
he told Anadolu in an interview in the Turkish metropolis, Istanbul.
He argues that the defence of secularism, which is commonly cited as the reason for the opposition to Islam in French society, is not actually the real cause.
“The real root cause is that the sons of the colonisers do not want to accept the fact that the sons of the colonised raise their voice and ask for their rights,” he said.
“And I will give you a kind of demonstration … If you are a cleaning lady in France, you may wear the hijab, there is absolutely no issue. (But) If you wear a hijab and you want to be a professor or a lawyer, here comes the issue. Here comes the defence of secularism.”
Seated comfortably in an apartment in Istanbul’s iconic Taksim area, the French analyst offered a deeper historical context for the rising Islamophobia and the state of Muslims in French society.
After World War II, thousands of immigrants were brought to France or, as Burgat put it, were “imported” because the country wanted “workers”.
The first generation of these migrant workers were poor and did not even know a single word of French, the second generation could not write properly, while the third did not know the means of communication, said Burgat.
But the fourth generation, the one France is facing now, the one France is benefiting from now, they know how to speak, they know how to debate and they raise their voice
“And what do they ask? They ask the rights which are inherent to their nationality. Moreover, they ask the right to participate in the writing of the history of their encounter with France.”
This is something that the majority of the French ruling and intellectual elite, or a large section of the left “does not accept”, he emphasized.
Burgat also pointed out that the defence of secularism has also been very selectively used against Muslims and not against Catholics or Jews.
Burgat said the West is moving out of a period when it had political, military, economic and symbolic hegemony.
France, he said, has two specificities, the first coming from the root of its revolution in 1789.
“It is the fact that the French revolutionaries did not struggle against royalty only, but also against the church because the church was an ally of the royalty,” he said.
According to him, a pretext exists today in French society, where “Islamophobes” say they are not against Islam specifically.
Instead, they say that they are against the fact that a religion should appear in the public sphere. He believes that this gives a strong position to all those who want to oppose Islam.
The other specificity he mentions is the colonial background of France.
According to Burgat, the history of the encounter between France and Muslims goes back centuries, when the two met in Muslim lands.
However, after World War II, things changed completely when the French “imported thousands of Muslims to rebuild our economy.”
Then the French found themselves in “a situation when those whom they had colonised in their own lands started appearing in their own society,” he explained.
Burgat believes that Muslims are not the only target in the French society.
Terming it a post-colonial situation, he said the phenomenon of Islamophobia extends “to at least some Black non-Muslims.”
“If a Muslim raises his voice in France and says, ‘I want my right,’ he will often be delegitimised as communitarist or Islamist. But if a gentleman from south of Sahara societies, non-Muslim, Black person raises his voice, he will be treated the same way. He will not be discredited as Islamist, but he will be discredited as racialist,” he explained.
Burgat said there is now a huge debate that the left cannot support Muslims because the core of their belief is that they must oppose religion.
The problem with the left is that they are against religion and have no “software” to address Islamophobia, he said.
For instance, to oppose the ban, the leftist parties relied upon the belief that it had nothing to do with religion.
“This is, in fact, a wrong analysis. The real question to ask is whether France is going to accept the fact that Muslim identity will be allowed to appear in the public sphere without being criminalised?” he said.
In French history, religion has played a “negative role” as a partner of royal autocracy, he said.
The left cannot accept the idea that religion could play a role which is not as negative as the one that the church has played in the history of France, he added.
The French analyst believes that the specific and clearly identified goal of French politicians is nothing but to be elected.
Therefore, he thinks that Muslims, whose majority do not participate in elections, should be more active in the polls.
He underlined that the political debate in France used to be between the left and the right.
However, since 2020, when President Emmanuel Macron realised that he had to mobilise extreme right voices to be re-elected, the main public political competition is between the extreme right in the opposition and the extreme right in the government, he added.
Burgat called on secular Muslims to realise that they will be soon be the next target.
“Some Muslims consider that the present campaign targets only very religious people. I say to them, beware, you will be the next on the list,” he said.
Muslims should react and be a little more vocal, and they ought to be more active in politics, he stressed.
Burgat also has hope for the current generation.
“When I look to this fourth generation, they are clever, they are intelligent, they are strongly motivated as a whole,” he said.
The rightist majority of the French want their citizens to all look alike, refusing the idea that different cultures in the same nation would not weaken it, he said.
“This is very dangerous because the defence of secularism nowadays has brought France into a dead end. When sometimes I want to be a little provocative, I say this dead end stinks,” he added.
The French expert foresees more legal proposals which will identify the existence and the presence of Muslims as the core of the problems of French society.
For the first time in contemporary French history, a former prime minister, referring to Edouard Philippe, has said that they should probably have new laws to “specifically address the ambitions of Islam”.
“I say to my friends in Yemen, in Libya or in Syria: ‘You live a terrible situation, but I consider that, although slowly, you are moving toward a better future,’” he said.
“At a time when I am afraid that my France, as well as the ‘Trumpist’ United States, might well be moving … backward, toward the darkness of the past.”
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