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Notes on Islam in France Notes on Islam in France
by Joseph Gatt
2020-09-14 06:22:00
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Notes on Islam in France, in no particular order.

-French pundits love debating Islam. Except that they seldom invite Muslims to those debates.

-Let's put things in context. There has been a Muslim presence in France since the end of the 19th century.

-Historically, in the 19th century, it was first Muslim soldiers in the French army who used to settle in France. That is those Muslims, who were from French Muslim colonies, would fight for the French army, and when discharged, would settle in Metropolitan France.

fra0001_400-In the early 20th century, the booming French industry needed cheap docile labor. Italians and Polish immigrants came, and so did Muslims. Pundits like to make it sound like the Italians and Eastern Europeans came way before the Muslims. No. They came around the same time, in the period between 1919 and the 1929 recession, during the brief industrial boom.

-In the 1950s, many Muslim male blue collar workers settled in France. Many “white” French people had died during World War II, and France needed cheap labor.

-In the 1960s France still needed those male factory workers. But France also welcomed Arab intellectuals in the 1960s and 1970s. Those Arab intellectuals were often very smart, educated in the French system, persecuted, harassed and expelled by King Hassan II of Morocco, Boumediène of Algeria, Bourguiba of Tunisia, Nasser of Egypt, Assad of Syria, and the oligarchy of Lebanon.

-So France got cheap labor and the best and brightest Arab minds.

-Now in the 1980s and 1990s another cohort of Arab Muslims and non-Arab Muslims started arriving: guys who had never worked a day in their lives, arrived to France, survived by borrowing money wherever they could find it, locked themselves up in apartments and listened to music all day, or killed time at the local café, or started doing drugs and engaging in all kinds of strange behavior.

-In the late 1970s, the French government also welcomed the families of factory workers. Now those factory workers often had more than 6 children, in some cases more than one wife, lived in tiny apartments (those apartments were initially built for French white collar bachelors or young white collar couples) and that lead to all kinds of social problems.

-Remember that not all French Muslims are Arabs. Many French Muslims are of Senegalese, Malian, Nigerien, Nigerian, Cameroonian or from the Ivory Coast.

-OK. Here's the problem. The Quran is perfectly clear about one thing. The Quran states several times that the Holy Book is perfectly clear, and needs no debate or explanation.

-So most Muslims believe that debating the Quran is forbidden. You just don't debate whether or not women should wear a headscarf, or a hijab, or any other religious matter, because it's not allowed. It's not allowed, it's haram.

-The only Muslim scholar the French found who was willing to violate this prohibition (and other prohibitions) was Swiss-British Islamic Studies scholar Tariq Ramadan.

-This is where it gets interesting. Tariq Ramadan often debates Islam with Jewish and Christian (or atheist) pundits, and I don't think I've ever seen Tariq Ramadan debate with a Muslim.

-Tariq Ramadan is something of a confusing pundit. He's the kind of pundit who says that everything is allowed but everything is forbidden. He's the kind of guy who says the wall is black but the wall is also white. That kind of confusing scholar.

-Now what should the French get from the Muslims. First off, the French should stop trying to federate the Muslims or get the Muslims to debate their faith. Muslims in France come from diverse backgrounds, including religious observance and tradition backgrounds. And their religion bans them from holding French (or Dutch) debates about religion. Mettez vous ça bien dans la tête.

-Now Imams are more like spiritual guides that teach the Quran and lead prayers. They are not people who debate or clarify confusing aspects of the Quran, because the Quran states that it is perfectly clear and not subject to interpretation.

-Where the Muslims would owe us an explanation is if they organize militias or try to overthrow the government or something.

-Boycotting Israel is also not allowed by French law, and calling for the boycott of Israel (or any other country) is not allowed by French law. The problem with BDS is soon enough all kinds of groups are going to use boycott against any organization, company or country they disagree with. Next in line are Sweden and Denmark and any country or company that employs an individual or a group. So they owe us an explanation on those flyers they pass around begging people not to purchase anything “made in Israel.”

-Hate speech is not allowed in France.

-As for the hijab, my take on this is the debate is flawed. The debate goes like this “should the hijab be banned in the public sphere.” The public sphere means the streets, and people wear all kinds of weird, strange stuff in parks and in the streets. I don't see the hijab as a problem.

-To me, the hijab should be framed in the context of a debate on “dress codes” and not on religion.

-Let me explain. Until the 1980s, the tacit agreement was that French male teachers and public servants were supposed to wear suits and ties.

-In the 1980s, a group of young teachers and public servants rebelled and started showing up to work in jeans and clean shirts with no ties.

-Some school principals and public administration leaders tolerated that. Others would send the teacher home and tell the teacher to come back with a suit and tie on.

-That led to a debate, not a very public one, more of an internal one. Should teachers be allowed to shave their heads? Should they be allowed to dye their hair? What kind of sweaters and coats are allowed?

-In 1989, good old Lionel Jospin became Minister of Education and abolished the dress code for teachers. Teachers were allowed to dye their hair and show up wearing hoodies and sneakers, and could not be sent home for that.

-Now that's where the debate on the hijab should fit in. Should girls be allowed to wear super-mini-skirts or very short shorts in class? Should teachers be allowed that in class? How do you define the dress code in an era where fashion is very seasonal and changes every season?

-More importantly, should private companies be allowed to fire someone for not following a certain dress code? High-end restaurants require staff to wear very clean suits. But what if a waitress rebels and starts wearing a head scarf?

-In sum, this whole hijab thing should be a matter of dress code and fashion, not religion. And for the love of God, French pundits should stop saying that the hijab is a sign of submission or inferiority of women to men.

-But this does pose a real question. In Islam, men and women are not equals, when they are equal under the law in France. But there are laws for that, and if a Muslim man does not treat his Muslim wife as an equal, the law punishes that.

-Quick note on Halal food. The French government does not allow some privately-owned restaurants to serve Halal food, or privately-owned grocery stores to be exclusively Halal. The official reason stated is that a business should be able to serve all its customer base, and not discriminate among customers. I find that stupid, and dangerous. Next in line are the Kosher stores. If you want your restaurant to serve Halal meat, I don't see the problem with that. Halal meat actually tastes good, true story!

-And finally, on immigration. The real question should be “should we welcome immigrants who have never studied a day in their lives, never worked a day in their lives, and come to France with the welfare system in mind, hoping to marry some French woman who will work and bring home the paycheck, while surviving on the generous French unemployment benefits.” And more importantly how do you weed out those guys from immigration and prune the dead wood.

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