“Progressive groups in Western Europe called for action after the police killing of George Floyd in the United States, but the death of 22-year-old Iranian Mahsa Amini, which resulted in the shooting of dozens of women protesters, did not spark activist fever and calls for large demonstrations. Stars Football they will not kneel in front of it. Iranian lives do not matter. It is an indication of the marked reluctance of the left to anything related to Islamism, including in this drama about the oppression of women. Since the proclamation of the new proletarian Muslims, it is clear that there are two scales in use. Any one is rejected Objection to fundamentalist demands as a stigma.”// “While Iranian women are at risk of fighting Islamic teachings, a report from the security services leaked in France reveals how fundamentalists pressured young Muslim women to wear Islamic clothing at school and demand prayers during school hours.”
These are quotes from Lucas Van der Tylen’s review of a new book by Nadia Gertz, “Neutralité ou Laïcité, La Belgique Site” on Doorbraak (September 29, 22). The bibliography presents the writer as a “committed expert in the field of hijab” and briefly summarizes the difficulties she encountered in higher education in Brussels. This eventually led to her quitting teaching. She now works at the MR Study Center.
Giertes’ commitment is undeniable, but his underlying “experience” is based on a misjudgment of French secularism. It was a strategy to achieve social pacification. Separation of churches from the state with mutual respect. The churches do not interfere in the affairs of the state, but also the state does not interfere in the affairs of the church, and freedom of religion. In the current French constitution (the constitution from 1958) it initially says about the French Republic: “Elle respecte toutes les croyances”, respecting all ideological beliefs. This sentence is rarely or never quoted, it is not on the market.
This is understandable. The famous French secularism, based on the 1905 legislation, turned into an anti-Islam battle axe. In France, the opinion now prevails that it is completely unacceptable for a girl wearing a headscarf to sit in a classroom – this would violate the neutrality of the French state – but it is quite normal for a teacher to display a lewd cartoon in the classroom that denigrates the Prophet and severely insults and harms Muslims – This kind of education is located in the neutrality of the French state! This is due to the silent alliance between the French state and the bad magazine Charlie Hebdo. You can write whatever you like, after all there is freedom of expression (with some legal restrictions of course), but it is not true that the state conforms to the ideology of such a magazine.
The distortion of French secularism
The decadence of the French state was all too evident by the murder of Samuel Baty, a deranged teacher who felt he should show such an outrageous cartoon to 14-year-olds in class. While the charter of secularism suspended in all schools quotes from the constitution and says about the republic: “It respects all sects.” What had been a very stupid and uneducated act on Patty’s part – which unfortunately paid him with his life – has now been elevated to a heroic act in France. France is now full of patty schools, patty rooms, patty gardens, patty trees, patty squares, patty streets etc. There they are constantly being added. And patty ceremonies, and patty competitions, and patty festivities… This is in stark contrast to the French tradition of secularism in state education, which asserted that nothing should be said in class that could be offensive even to a single Catholic parent – the concrete application of the thought of appeasement. This tradition is now completely misunderstood because it is no longer about Catholicism, but about Islam.
Historically, the decadence of French secularism has to do with Iran and its bad, aggressive, if not offensive, use of Islam. In the context of the Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie that called for the writer’s assassination, the French tampering with freedom of religion and expression developed. The fatwa was published in Iranian media on February 14, 1989. On October 3, 1989, the Creel case began in France, a French national dispute over whether the headscarf should be banned in schools and classrooms, a long-running issue. That would lead to a ban on the headscarf.
On November 2, 1989, a group of media intellectuals joined the debate with an opinion piece in the left-wing magazine Le Nouvel Observateur (Elizabeth Badinter, Regis Debray, Alan Finkelkraut, Elizabeth de Fontaine and Katherine Kintzler). According to them, secularism is a struggle: “Secularism is and remains the principle of struggle, just like public education, the republic and freedom itself.” In their speech they go back to German Fascism: not banning the headscarf is compared to “Munich”, the 1938 treaty between Nazi Germany, France, England and Italy in which Germany’s annexation of the Sudetenland (Czech Republic) was accepted in the hope that German expansion would have stopped nonetheless. But the opposite was true: not long after Germany invaded Poland.
At the same time, the slogan “Munich for the laity” equates Islam with fascism and suggests that any indulgence – any lack of fight – against Islam is a defeat against an expansionist religion. It’s not a political analysis, but it’s a massive exaggeration. How can you compare three students who come to school wearing the hijab to an Islamic dictatorship the size of Iran? Even if there are veiled girls in all public education classes in France, there is no Islamic dictatorship or repression.
It is also clear that there can be friction between the beliefs of Muslim students and the views of education. Very conservative and traditional students may object to Darwinism, mixed swimming, or music. But this is not related to the veil. This is an educational problem that cannot be solved simply by decrees.
Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu put it very well in his review “Un problème peut en cacher un autre”: The “open question” should we accept the wearing of the Islamic headscarf, yes or no? Hiding the hidden question “Should we accept immigrants of North African origin in France?” The headscarf ban is actually a struggle for North African immigration, a struggle against an immigrant group.
Left solidarity can easily be abused
The left – which after all means against economic exploitation, and against discrimination against the socially disadvantaged – has to look at the issue of the headscarf from this perspective. It is about recognizing the rights of minorities, and respecting religious freedom. This partly overlaps with the liberal tradition (also shared by the left) of equal rights for citizens and the right to freedom of expression and belief. (The overlap, of course, stops where the left wants to tackle the capitalist economy, and (right wing) liberalism defends it.)
Of course, the left can sympathize with the struggle of Iranian women and men against the Islamic dictatorship. But this struggle was soon used in France and here to fight the veil (and thus Islam), and thus to fight immigrants, as Bourdieu explained. The battle here is not against the veil, but for the right of a woman to wear whatever she wants on her head, and it should be clearly stated as such. Nor should the conflict in Iran lead to the return of a regime like that of Sha Riza Pahlevi: a Western-oriented neoliberal police state.
Besides the ideological aspect of the left-wing stance on the Iranian insurgency, there is, of course, also the strategic aspect. The police killing of George Floyd in the US provoked a lot of backlash in France (with the leadership of the Asa Traore movement) because the same problem of unacceptable and often fatal police brutality justified by government or justice also exists, partly in the same racial context. Belgium was not spared from that either. There is every reason left to subscribe to the Black Lives Matter logo.
Any solidarity with any effect?
Moreover, France and Belgium are in the sphere of influence of the United States, which is not the case with Iran. The question, then, is what left-wing solidarity actions (other than complacency) can mean and what effect they can have. It could easily match the US anti-Iran policy, which is reprehensible. America has nothing against dictatorships (unless at times verbally, when appropriate) and against Islamic cruelty (after all, the United States has supported the reactionary Islamist Taliban movement in trying to deceive Russia in Afghanistan, successfully). Iran itself is not bothered by acts of Belgian solidarity with the resistance there, unless they actually lead to real political pressure. For the left, the question then is how can you support the Iranian protest without joining the reactionary anti-hijab rhetoric in Belgium and US imperialism?
The comparison Van der Theelen makes between the war against the Islamic dictatorship in Iran and the fight against the fundamentalists in France is insidious. It doesn’t take fundamentalism to claim the freedom of a student restroom in a public school. Also, a French Muslim, even if he is an imam, is not an Iranian ayatollah. There is nowhere to threaten the Islamic dictatorship in France. There is a Muslim minority that claims its own identity and wants the democratic freedoms proudly proclaimed in France to apply to them as well. The same for Belgium.
Thus, Lukas van der Theelen’s comment about the passivity of progressive groups is a quandary: a challenge to solidarity linked to things rejected by the left: more American grip and pressure on Iran, the potential fueling of a right-wing revolution there and a return to a pro-American police state, as well as the strengthening of anti-hijab attitudes in Belgium itself. Watch out for the left so as not to fall into the trap!