France Defines Its Social Norms With Ban

Mark Laluan

In a secular, pluralistic society, compromise is the basis of all ideal policymaking. While some may question France’s recent ban on the full-face Islamic veil in public places, the ban is suggestive of how notions of compromise demand compliance from all members of society.

While the €150 fine – approximately $217 – and compulsory citizenship classes for those found to be in violation of the ban will probably never be actively enforced, the symbolism of the French government’s action is in keeping with France’s long-standing tradition of laïcité, which is a form of separation of government and religion.

Laicism has strong traditions within the Muslim world as well. Modernization movements spearheaded by President Mustafa Kemal in Turkey and Iran under the then-Shah, Reza Khan, included the banning of Islamic full-face veils as part of their programs.

In both instances, enforced laicism came about in a culture where religious leaders had jealously guarded their authority over government from the broad masses.

Only the most hidebound and reactionary of Monarchists would be able to gloss over the depredations and policies of stagnation the Ancien Régime endorced in France. While in the Islamic world, the religiosity of the reigning Qajar and Ottoman dynasties stifled egalitarian reforms and technological innovation in Persia and Turkey, respectively.

The old notion that “God will provide the King the People deserve” does little to address the need for a government dominated neither by theocratic hierophants nor populist tenancies towards material fetishism and flavor-of-the-week style politics.

We believe it is implicit in any society that operates through the principle of consent of the governed, that such a society has a right to define the limits and scope of expected social norms.

Just as the Italian public last year rose against the European Union’s attempt to remove Christian crucifixes from public school classrooms, the French public has every right to determine the limits or scope of religious expression in the public sphere.

By and large, polls such as a recent inquiry by Ipsos indicate an overwhelming majority of the French public – men, women, religious of all faiths including Islam and atheists – support the ban.

There is a solidifying consensus that it would be damaging to French culture to give protection to a religious – some would say tribal – practice that sets French Muslims apart from the broader community of citizens in France.

Support for pluralism should not lead to the creation of ethnic and religious divisions within a society. Sadly, this is exactly what has happened in Europe over the past three decades.

Instead of a melting pot where each new wave of migration adds to the richness of the greater whole, states such as France have suffered from the problem of groups wishing to live according to their own rules.

In some cases these groups have even demanded that French society adapt to their norms rather than making the attempt to find common ground with the society of their newfound home.

In response to such tensions it’s natural the French Government would react in the manner that it has. Rather than being an a massive public relations stunt to court the far-right’s votes, this policy represents the struggle of a society grappling with the problem of absorbing newcomers while at the same time preserving the essential essence of their society.