TCS Daily


France's War on Islam...and Islam's War on Itself

By Jean-Christophe Mounicq - March 2, 2004 12:00 AM

"French law banning the hijab constitutes a war against Islam as a religion," declared the Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine, Ikrima Said Sabri, in his Friday sermon of 23 January, 2004. This statement, made by a man who is not a member of some marginal group but a well known mufti paid by the Palestinian Authority, demonstrates France's increasing confrontation with the "Muslim problem."

The French are discovering two things: First, massive immigration since the 1960s has changed the population dynamics of France, where there are now between 6 and 8 million Muslims living (and maybe more as all governments hide figures for fear of a nationalist vote); Second, "The crisis of Islam," to refer to the last book of Bernard Lewis, concerns not only Muslims living in Iran or Saudi Arabia but also those in the Western world.

If the speech of the Mufti of Jerusalem is acknowledged by a significant number of Muslims it is possible that France, without wanting it and even without realizing it, is the second Western country to be involved in a war against Islam in the 21st century -- the first being the US after 9/11. At least against a certain kind of Islam: radical Islam. One key question is what percentage of Muslims share the Mufti's views.

The hijab is meant to signify that women are inferior to men. It is not considered obligatory by all Muslim clerics, but has become a symbol for the Islamists. The veil question has been expropriated by radical Islam. The veil is imposed on women in Iran and Saudi Arabia, two countries in the grip of medieval obscurantism. The fact that the majority (53 percent) of French Muslims are opposed to a law that is backed by more than two-thirds of the French population, three-quarters of French teachers, and 90 percent of the Members of French National Assembly is a sign that the Muslims among us are significantly out of step with the rest of the population.

The important question is: what percentage of Muslims believe in radical Islam? This problem is neither specifically French nor European, but rather worldwide. The answer bears directly on the accuracy of Samuel Huntington's theory of the "Clash of Civilizations."

The number of inflamed declarations evoking the "hatred of Islam in France" originating in every Muslim country and most Arabic media shows that Muslims reject the French notion of secularism: "laïcité". Even if laïcité is a rather strict concept, and one that has specific historical roots, one may wonder if Muslims accept any secularism at all.

Does "France hate Islam"? The fact is that France shows great tolerance and even favoritism towards Islam. In France, as in most Western countries, you can make jokes about Christians or Jews but not Muslims. Recently a French teacher was suspended from a public school for "racism" because he told the story of Mohamed ordering the decapitation of all the Jewish males of the tribe of Quraizai. This is an historical fact. Denying history in the name of political correctness encourages the worst type of Islamism and draws us all into an atmosphere not far removed from that found in totalitarian states. Criticism is a barrier against excess. Muslims cannot live in a fantasy world where everybody is depicted as violent except them.

In France young Muslims may burn synagogues: nobody will dare to name the perpetrators and identify them as Muslims. Hundreds of young Muslims can scream "Death to the Jews" at a Jewish singer during a concert organized by Bernadette Chirac for ill children, but the First Lady will not react, pretending to be as deaf as his husband.

France is very tolerant towards Muslims and Islam. The new law -- sincerely aimed at protecting young Muslim girls from the pressure of their parents, and to stop Islamist proselytizing at school -- is not an overreaction.

It is wrong to call Jacques Chirac "an enemy of Islam." It was, after all, Jacques Chirac who blocked any reference to the Judeo-Christian roots of Europe in the European constitution and who romanticized the coming of the Muslims in Europe. He even said that "the roots of Europe are as Islamic as Judeo-Christian," an egregiously false statement that denies historical fact. The French President permitted Islamists to win the elections for the Representative Council of Muslims in France. Chirac was the hero of the Muslim world before and during the war in Iraq. He has nearly always taken the side of Palestinians in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. How ironic it is for him now to be denounced as an "Americano-Zionist"!

"Laïcité terroriste" was the chant of Islamist demonstrators throughout the world. But as Islamists are experts in terrorism one should pay attention. Muslims do not accept French laïcité. They do not accept secularism. One should recall that Kemal Ataturk imposed secularism on the Turks by force and violence, destroying mosques, shooting officers dancing with a veiled woman. In Islam, religion and policy are one and the same. It is true that tolerant Muslims may wish to see a positive evolution of Islam on this point as on many others. One can admire their courage. But, today, how much can they do in the face of the predominance of the radicals?

When Muslim clerics say the law banning the veil in public schools in France is an act of war against Islam, when others aver that the US interventions in Iraq and in Afghanistan constitute a generalized war against Islam, it becomes very difficult for a non-Muslim to convince them and their followers that they are wrong. Non-Muslim French politicians and ordinary citizens can no more interpret the Koran for Palestinian or French Muslims than non-Muslim American politicians and ordinary citizens can interpret the Koran for Iraqi Shias or American Sunnis.

"The Crisis of Islam" is real. Regardless of whether France is at war against Islam the fact is that Islam is at war with itself. Only Muslims can help their religion evolve towards modernity. Only Muslims can interpret all the violent statements against Jews and Christians contained in Koran as parts of a past history. Only Muslims can define jihad not as war against non-Muslims but rather as a personal and interior fight against evil. Only they can abolish the belief that women are inferior to men and that non-Muslims are inferior to Muslims. Only they can accept secularism, freedom and democracy.

Westerners can mostly do two things: first, help the moderate Muslims to win; second, make it clear to the radical Muslims that they will lose. The West is not doing well on the first point. The war against radical Islam is a cultural war, a war of ideas. The Saudis understand this: they spend billions of dollars every year to spread radical Islam throughout the world. Propaganda is not something Western states are good at. The way civil servants from the U.S. State Department have sold Bush's policy in Iraq demonstrates this.

At least Westerners are acting on the second point. George W. Bush is conducting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to help foster a positive evolution of Islam in the Muslim world. Jacques Chirac is making laws to foster a positive evolution of Islam in the Western world. Both can be criticized. Neither is assured of victory. But if they lose, we all lose.


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