Monday, 24 October 2016


The years 1789 to 1794 was the epoch-making five years that were to form the turning point of the French Revolution.  The Third Estate went to build the Nation as a body of people who join to live under the common law.  From it sprang the Declaration Rights of Man that went on to underscore Liberté, égalité, fraternité.

It may surprise you despite the heading this post is not about religion although religion runs through it, I would rather rein in the argument to social conformity and Law of Secularism principally in France.  Hence to read this post against a background of recent controversy concerning the banning of wearing burkinis on a beach and its likely hood of causing nuisance and disturbance especially in the light of the last few terrorists’ attacks in that country.  The multi-folds of this argument support the consequent ban on the Bourkini and face cover along the following lines:

a) Blatant disregard for the law of the land
b) Provocative display of religious symbols.
C) Laïcité is not coercive or restrictive.

According to Wikipedia Laïcité, is the absence of religious involvement in government affairs, especially the prohibition of religious influence in the determination of state policies. According to Oxford Reference, Laïcité exists in varying forms depending on the level of influence of religion and religious beliefs stipulated by government guiding principles, politics, law, and public life. In some countries, such as France, there is a complete separation of religion from state affairs (a form of secularism known as Laïcité). Demonstrating, amongst other things, to limit if not issue an outright ban on the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols in public government institutions such as schools. It does not prevent or prohibit people's right to freedom of religion and belief. Secular states have two key features: 1) their legal and judicial processes are out of institutional religious control and 2) they constitutionally establish neither an official religion nor atheism. Laïcité is non-restrictive to freedom of thought and freedom of worship.  The absence of state religion and separation of state and religion some consider as a prerequisite to freedom of thought and drawing in minority interests.  Other countries that have adopted Laïcité or its hybrids are the United States, Turkey, Mexico and others including ironically for a Middle Eastern country, The Lebanon.

The stress is on égalité where the Equality of all is to establish a simple citizen on equal terms to all other citizens, devoid of ethnic, religious or other particularities.  Citizen, in the context of the French Revolution, is the key that abolishes patriarchal and hierarchical constructs of Society of Orders.

It is generally asserted that French secularism secures freedom of thought and freedom of religion. On the other hand, many would argue that Laïcité is coercive and is an infringement on the right of the individual.  It implies a subtle form of anti-clericalism and inhibits religious expressions.  Rather than promoting freedom of religion, it prevents the believer from observing his or her religion. Personally, I strongly refute this argument since effort for equality, France as embedded in its constitution constantly aware not to include religion in public and hence though a Catholic country the government as always distanced itself from Religious exhibitionism.  Conversely, the law is also active in the protection of minority rights and is supportive in funding of religious institutions irrespective of denomination.  It restricts government and institutions from any would be prejudice against any one's religion while it tries to minimize the chances of radicalisation.

French constitution seeks more of a universal acceptance of tradition just as much as the Gregorian calendar, for example, is accepted universally.  What it tries to prevent is stepping outside the universally accepted norm to distinctively making a statement.  Conversely, from religious neutrality perspective, the law works for the protection of minority rights.  It restricts government and institutions from any would be prejudice against any one's religion. It makes an effort to contain the radicalization of Islam, and the law acts as a deterrent by extending its reach to include an excessive show of religious emblems.  Laïcité can further be interpreted embodying restrictive religious aims not to allow a Divine authority to dominate the state and to extinguish any outward sign that can lead to that.

Hence, it is also a flawed argument to suggest that a Nun, in formal dress, should not be on a beach.  As far as the Catholic Church is concerned it stipulates a Nun must make her presence visible in everyday life, hence a Nun’s Habit, just as much as an Islamic Imam is identified by his mode of dress in public.  And, is irrespective whether or not a Nun is allowed on the Beach as in Nice, France. Contemporary culture often very secularized is increasingly sensitive to the language of signs and symbols to embellish with Bourkini; a symbol that bears clear witness they belong to a particular religion is interpreted as extremely provocative.  Culturally, many would invoke the idea being discreet with one's religion as a necessary part of being French.  The Islamic hijab, Sikh turban, (large) Christian crosses, and Jewish Stars of David and kippah should be banned from public schools. Such a ban came into effect in France in 2004.  Moreover despite many consider France a Christian country the law also banned the broadcasts of Catholic and Orthodox Christmas night liturgies.

For further validation to my argument, I need to highlight the objection from yet another perspective. The outward appearance of distinctive clothing bracketing a certain individual to a religious affiliation is a political statement.  It bears the psychic phenomena of self-distancing more engrossed with identity formation bordering on self-construction.  It tries to signify possible distinction between Equality of an individual in society as opposed to a difference of that individual.  Showing outward signs of failure to integrate into the broader community and failure on the part of the person to benefit from standard discourses of Enlightenment to ‘find themselves’, without prejudice to the universal norm.  To opt out to a concept of self-distancing while unconsciously allowing separation, delimitation, and spatial partition.

Religion in Democracy, the practice of which need not be contradictory to the term so long as the points hitherto considered, are acknowledged for this argument. In opposition, it is worth noting, generally, in Muslim countries Religion and the State were united in pursuit of Islamic righteousness. However, in porous social democracies, meaning and appropriating application of Laïcité is in flux. They also allow Laïcité to extend its reach to cover the constant changes and evolving system of values organizing the relationship between civil society and the state.   Laïcité is not asking to 'exit from religion' or to withdraw from the world held by one's religion and its creedal references but to give collective meaning to societies’ members.

Clause 4 of the ‘Rights of Man’ states: Liberty consists in being able to do whatever doesn’t harm another.  Thus, the exercise of each man’s natural rights has no limits other than those which guarantee to the other members of society the enjoyment of these same rights; those limits can only be determined by the law.

(Accepted by King Louis XVI of France)

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