Secularism confronts Islam

Linked with Olivier Roy – France.

Published on Open Democracy.org, by Olivier Roy, Oct. 25, 2007.

An excerpt: … A recast relationship:

Yet the tensions that have troubled western societies since 11 September 2001 show that both these models are in crisis. In France, many young Muslims complain that theirs is a second-class citizenship and that they are still the victims of racism, while they are integrated in terms of language and education and accept laïcité. Moreover, also in France, young born-again Muslims demand to be recognised as believers in the public space (by wearing a veil, if they are girls). At the same time, the increasing radicalisation of a fraction of Muslim youth in the United Kingdom and in the Netherlands has led to a shift in public opinion in these countries, whereby the multicultural model is called into question and accused of encouraging “separatism”.

As a matter of fact, both multiculturalism and assimilationism are in crisis for similar reasons: both posit the existence of an intrinsic link between religion and culture. Keeping one’s religion also means keeping one’s culture. Multiculturalism therefore implies that religion remains embedded in a stable cultural background, and assimiliationism implies that integration, by definition, leads to the secularisation of beliefs and behaviours, since all cultural backgrounds disappear.


But the problem is that today’s religious revival – whether under fundamentalist or spiritualistic forms – develops by decoupling itself from any cultural reference. It thrives on the loss of cultural identity: the young radicals are indeed perfectly “westernised”. Among the born-again and the converts (numerous young women who want to wear the veil belong to these categories), Islam is seen not as a cultural relic but as a religion that is universal and global and reaches beyond specific cultures, just like evangelicalism or Pentecostalism. And this loss of cultural identity is the condition both for integration and for new forms of fundamentalism. Whether Muslim, Christian, or Jewish, religious revivalism raises the question of the place of religion in the public sphere. The debates about prayers in school, the display of the Ten Commandments in courthouses, or the creation of an eruv following the request of Haredi Jews to privatise public space on Shabbat show that the recasting of the relation between the religious and the public sphere is not specific to Islam.

A French exception: … (full long text).

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