Chirac’s Rubik Cube

by Yule Heibel on January 7, 2004

The International Herald Tribune carried an article by Diana Pinto today that I thought was one of the smartest commentaries I’ve yet read on the French ban of religious dress and symbolism (aka “the head scarf ban”): The long, bloody path that led to French securalism: Head scarves and history. Pinto writes that

a militantly secular and neutral French republic is perceived by most citizens as the only possible response to a long and tormented French political past, rife with religious tragedy, a story in which Islam is simply the latest arrival. [emphasis added]
Most religions have, at some point, come into conflict — and even war — with the French state, and been cast out of the French body politic. The state has turned them into privileged interlocutors only after “whacking them into shape,” so to speak, in the interests of social and political order.

Pinto sketches a brief history of the beatings that the other major religions have had to take in France — in the name of upholding the freedoms of the citizen — and continues:

Given this turbulent past, it is easy to understand why so many French people rally around a secular republic as the only guarantor of national peace. They are all too aware that their nation is a boat with a complex religious balance, one that could easily be upset with the arrival of a particularly boisterous “passenger,” modern Islam.
In its contemporary demands, Islam has proven problematic for the French state, not because many consider it to be an “outsider,” non-European religion but because integrating it within the republic with in the spirit of today’s pluralist and multicultural outlook could awaken the jealousy of the other “domesticated” religions, which were never given such a choice.
The result would be to threaten the entire French republican edifice.(…)
Islam’s demands, especially for those in the camp of la

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