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January 02, 2004

French symptoms

Ikram has a post on French head-scarves that has generated some intelligent debate. My main feeling on this topic is this: instead of tackling the disease, they are trying to medicate symptoms. I make the same argument about issues like race norming standardized test scores for higher education, though it seems far cheaper in the short term than addressing the root causes (whatever you may think they are), you are deferring a genuine exploration of the deeper issues.

For the French, I think they need to address who they are as a nation, and what norms of public discourse & expression they can accept. As Randy MacDonald notes:

The Muslim minority in France has been integrated; or, at least, as well as any other immigrant minority. 45% of French Muslim men marry non-Muslims; more than half of young Muslims don't speak their parent's language at all, having French as their mother tongue; religious practice, all said, is low.

1) Muslims believe that the children of Muslim men and non-Muslim women are Muslims. Traditionally they don't accept the marriage of Muslim women to non-Muslim men.
2) If religious practice is low, the problem seems to be the remainder that are religious, or those who convert to fundamentalist Islam. Religious Catholic youth obviously are not the source of social discord in the same way, so I think the problem is in how fundamentalist strains express themselves in the two confessions.

As I've stated before, Christianity is relatively gelded in the First World, Islam on the other hand is not-it has bite along with bark.

On a related note, check out Aziz Poonwalla's post about his own experience with religious fanaticism. As I've pointed out on his blog, he is a member of a sect of a sect of a sect of Islam. Being such a small minority means that Aziz's group has always found that support of pluralism, toleration and moderation are most profitable for their own well-being. The moral: if you're going to let in Muslim migrants, persecuted Shia groups, like the Alevi Turks in Germany, might be a better bet than people who come from dominant ruling groups who are more self-assured and used to blurring the boundaries of sacred and secular (like my own family frankly, Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi tradition of sharia, who are in absolute numbers the most numerous in the Muslim world).

Posted by razib at 05:56 PM