the politics of assimilation- islam in france

Rarely has a judicial verdict in a civil court set off so much argument. But the annulment of the marriage of two French Muslims in Lille, granted because the bride falsely claimed to be a virgin, has prompted an outcry, culminating in a riotous parliamentary debate on June 3rd. The verdict touched a raw nerve in France, mixing complex questions of sexual equality, secularism and Islam.

The judge declared the marriage void since it was “founded on a lie about her virginity”, which the bride acknowledged, and this constituted an “essential quality” in the eyes of both parties. The case may not have been about religion. But it has exposed the sensitivities of the secular French republic, home to Europe’s biggest Muslim population, about the right balance to strike between respect for Islamic tradition and a firm assertion of French law.

For a nation that prides itself on its egalitarianism and universal democratic culture, many feel that France is struggling to live up to its principles and fully integrate its Muslims into all sectors of national life. The French colonial legacy, and relationship with Algeria has seen distinct immigration into the state. The government ban on headscarves and other religious symbols caused a major international outcry, with many human rights organisations protesting what they essentially felt was an unwarranted infringement on the right to religious practice. This has raised serious questions about secularism in France and the role of the state.

Assimilation has proven difficult. Some French and foreign observers have interpreted riots in poor, largely Muslim neighborhoods throughout the country as a skirmish in a broader clash of civilizations. A recent documentary on Islam in France by Al-Jazeera, suggested that France was in fact producing a new ‘Euro-Islam’. 


~ by k-rock and l-jive on June 6, 2008.

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