THE LEVANT EXCLUSIVE – Paris – By Dr. Emilien Mohsen – PhD (Sorbonne) –
The French society is probably one of the most interesting and philosophically exciting of Western societies, and also probably the one that has the most kinship ties with the Arabo-Islamic culture from France’s historical presence in North Africa and the Middle East. France is the universalist Republic par excellence: Les hommes naissent et demeurent libres et égaux en droits. Les distinctions sociales ne peuvent être fondées que sur l’utilité commune (Art. 1er, Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen de 1789)
In her inherent foundation, the French Republic is une République indivisible, laïque, démocratique et sociale. Elle assure l’égalité devant la loi de tous les citoyens sans distinction d’origine, de race ou de religion. Elle respecte toutes les croyances.” (Art. 1er, Constitution du 4 octobre 1958). The Declaration of Human Rights and Citizins of 1789had already expanded on the subject to delare that “Nul ne doit être inquiété pour ses opinions, même religieuses, pourvu que leur manifestation ne trouble pas l’ordre public établi par la Loi.” (Art. X). Also, and logically then, “La libre communication des pensées et des opinions est un des droits les plus précieux de l’Homme : tout Citoyen peut donc parler, écrire, imprimer librement, sauf à répondre de l’abus de cette liberté, dans les cas déterminés par la Loi.” (Art. X1).
Immediately after the 7 January attack on Charlie Hebdo, in the social media and among the laymen, complot messages and public debates were in full swing, that is the attack was but a government intrigue so as to divide the French people of different origins and creeds only for the sake of being reelected, and this, probably,in order to make a barrage against the Extreme Right Wing thathas been gaining much place on the French political scene for the past 25 years.This isprobablyface-value and naïve. However, and as during the past quarter of a century the different French governments have been elected and reelected on promises unkept, people tend now to reject all political discourse coming from the “official” authorities on the ground that they are sheer lies and pure political schemes.
In this sense, a good number of pupils and students refused to observe the minute of silence after the Charlie Hebdo attack — even some educators also contested the “hype” on the subject —from a “humane” point of view, arguingthat what is happening in the world is infinitely more complex and heartbreaking than what happened in France.The political claimthat if there were no massive immigration in France — here it is to understand the Arab or largely the Muslim immigration — the Charlie Hebdo attack wouldn’t have occurred, is simplistic and summons only primeval xenophobia. And so, some arguments held that the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan, on 16 December 2014, attributed to a Taliban group and resulting in the massacre of 145 people among whom 132 school boys (Muslims versus Muslims),and the 22 July, Norway attacks by Anders Breivik, claiming the lives of 77 people and injuring about 209 others (Christians against Christians), prove that it is not the least related to immigration or cultural shocks, but rather to terrorism and vendettaper se; so much so that “we, French,” the claim goes,“are making a heap out of a speck of sand.” In the two weeks following the Charlie Hebdo massacre, France witnessed 128 islamophobic attacks, which count for as many as the entire 2014 incidents.
The French societal, judiciary and political systems showclear-cut condemnations of all forms of extremes, yet, at the same time, can prove oxymoronic. No major terror attacks had occurred in France since the 1995 St. Michel Metro bombing, as everythinghas been under control, under the vivre en commun, not in isolated communities; that is, until the Charlie Hebdo attack. The Anglo-Saxon model of integration allowsimmigrant population to observe their cults and religions as they wish, as citizens, among other native nationals of radically different culture in what is known as the “melting-pot.” According to the French Constitution, every citizen regardless of their origin or creed is part and parcel of the French ideal of the Republic: We all are French wherever we come from and whatever our creed is, and as such we should all live in the same way at least in public places.
Notwithstanding, people who live in the Banlieux, the outskirts of towns, negatively connoted (lieux de ban; literally places of exclusion, a term that has its way back to Feudal France),incidentally mostly immigrant population of Arab, North African or Black African origins, when asked, claim that they feel “less French” than other European immigrant populations. They feel discriminated, categorizedand criticized for being not willing to integrate into the French society. And so, these populations feel they are set aside and pointed at. The French endemic population, at times, tend to adhere to the ambient political theory and discourse that if not held at bay, the Arab and Muslim populations will impose their laws, and worse still, they will turn the French, non-religious and universal Republic into an Islamic state. Some mainstream politicians turned into public amusers over the past years, declaring that when passing by the banlieux, one would be taken aback by the smell and the noise. Some have even claimed that “Arab” school children are imposing their laws during school breaks by preventing others comrades from having snacks during the Ramadan days, and still others accused parents of not bringing their children to school in the morning due to the morning prayer. It has to be noted that schools open at 8 a.m. and not at 5! A few weeks ago a schoolboy of 8 was put into custody for “apology of terrorism,” andsome days ago a public intellectual’s conference was cancelled in a French university for being, to quote, “Pro Arab”!
Here, we might also notice that the publication of Michel Houellebecq’s last novel, Soumission (Submission), which portrays the accession to the French presidency, in 2022, of a Muslim figure and the ensuingclichés about Islam (Islam being sometimes erroneously, etymologically understood as “submission”) has added to the ambient humdrum discourse that the French Muslims are trying to take over the whole French, non-religious (by the way mostly Catholic) society. Houellebecq’s intention is, as he says, not to give rise to any schism in the French society, neither to take part in any insinuation that Islam is submissive. However, the French Extreme Right politically took for granted the novel’s intrigue, since, in 2012, an Islamic political party was created, “l’Union des démocrates musulmans de France” whose founder, Najib Azergui, claimed he would have many candidates running for the upcoming departmental elections. For this, and hinting at Houellebecq’s novel, The French Extreme Right, tweeted, onFriday 13 February: “Un parti ouvertement communautariste musulman candidat aux élections: quand la réalité rejoint la fiction!”ending by the hashtag#Soumission.On the other hand, asked on a TV show in a private interview (Le Grand Journal, Canal+ TV on 12 January) on the idea of being recuperated by the Extreme Right, Houellebecq says, “Qu’elle essaye! Let’s try. On verra si elle y arrive.”(The writer was referring Marine Le Pen’s trials to categorize Houellebecq as prophetic and sympathizing with the Extreme Right). The writer also said that anyone who thinks they can divert his literature into political propaganda “n’est pas encore de ce monde.”Some main figures, luckily a few, of the French political, social and intellectual elite have become farcical!
Karl Marx, in his “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of the Right,” says that “theory becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses. Theory is capable of gripping the masses as soon as it demonstrates ad hominem, and it demonstrates ad hominem as soon as it becomes radical.”
And therefore, no criticism was permitted after the Charlie hebdo attacks. Any critique was looked into as suspicious and as a trouble to the established order and the liberty of expression. The tenth and eleven articles of the Declaration des droits de l’homme becomeoxymoronic. And hence the “Theory” – that all Muslims are terrorists and that Islam is an intolerant religion” has gripped the masses ad hominem, and in its adhominem demonstration, it became radical. Notwithstanding, the Charlie Hebdo attack cannot but be fiercely condemned, but intellectual debate should not be denied. Denial is a tinder for extremist approaches on all sides, which is exactly what the French republican laws struggle to combat intellectually and by means of education. And therefore, the French population, in its vast majority, distinguishes between the religious and the extremist practices regardless of their origin.
It has to be noticed that also in the weeks following the Charlie Hebdo attack, the Qur’an has never before seen such success in libraries. People rushed to purchase the Holy Book in order to try and understand what Islam is about and make their own opinion. In January 2013, Ipsos-Le Monde had published an opinion poll with 74% of the French population believing that Islam is intolerant and the French Muslims seek to impose their way on the entire French society. Even more appalling, half of the interrogated panel thought that a great number of Muslims (44%) are fundamentalists.However, the 21-22 January 2015 poll (that is after the Charlie Hebdo attack) done again by Ipsos-Le Monde and published in the French media on the 28th of the same month, one French citizen out of two sees that Islam is compatible with the values of the French society, i.e., Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. This figure has doubled in the past two years. One of the reasons, maybe, is that the overwhelming majority of the French Muslims, whether from immigrant or native origins, had massively rallied the march for the liberty of expression, denouncing the killing of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists and adhering without constraint to the French Republican ideals in all sectors of the French daily, professional, intellectual and scientific life.
Marx had already said that the “Only in the name of the general rights of society can a particular class vindicate for itself general domination. … And hence for the political exploitation of all sections of society in the interests of its own section … all the defects of society must conversely be concentrated in another class (p. 54).This, hopefully, is not the case of France.