Monday 11 January 2016

Beyond belief!

After all those brickbats, a couple of bouquets.

First, this afternoon's Beyond Belief on Radio 4 on French secularism. It is well worth a listen. 

Its three guests were: Kay Chadwick, Reader in French Historical Studies at Liverpool University; Mona Siddiqui, professor of Islamic and Inter-religious Studies at the University of Edinburgh; and Natasha Lehrer, writer and literary editor of the Jewish Quarterly.

The first part looked at the history of French secularism; the second part look at how French secularism stands now; and dividing the two parts was an interview with a Muslim gentleman from a French "organisation against Islamophobia" who blamed the French state for pretty much everything, whose contribution was then discussed.

I found it all very interesting, and I suspect the discussion about the tensions between French secularism and French Islam didn't pan out quite how listeners would have expected. (It certainly didn't pan out how I expected - to put it mildly!).

The three guests were well contrasted. 

Mona Siddiqui gave a defence of French secularism and the way it "puts the citizen before the religion." She criticised the "mantra" of Muslims across Europe - whether they be Turks in Germany or South Asians in the UK - that the state is to blame. She said she didn't agree with them. She also said there are lots of issues that are "endemic" to these communities that aren't being looked at by those communities - and that those communities are the ones that need to "do some soul-searching". She said that the "visibility" of French Muslims is a "problem" - and meant that their hijab-wearing (etc) causing that problem. 

Natasha Lehrer espoused what might be called 'the left-liberal line', that it's understandable if French Muslims find French secularism problematic and that they blame the French state. They feel as if they have "no hope" because they face long-term, increasing mass unemployment and systematic discrimination, she said (which, of course, is uncannily close to 'the BBC line' in report after report from the banlieues).

Kay Chadwick rejected the 'anti-Islamophobia' guy's claim that "Islamophobia is the acceptable face of racism in France", and rejected the term 'Islamophobia'. She agreed with Mona, saying that French secularism discards ethnicity in favour of 'being French' first and foremost. 

Natasha countered that the French state is failing to bring ethnic minorities "into the fold" and that discrimination is rife.

Mona Siddiqui

Mona replied that the big issue facing Europe is "about values", and that we would welcome immigrants if they bought into our values of liberal European democracy. However, we are now seeing that no matter what we do with these communities "their values are essentially different from European liberal values" - and some of those people's values are essentially different because they choose to keep them different, and a lot of these communities "do fail" on those values.   

Natasha disagreed saying that allowing and valuing diversity is what a tolerant multicultural society demands, but Mona interrupted her to say "But that's only if it's positive", and a lot of the "demands" aren't a positive contribution to liberal democracy. It's all very well talking about diversity, Mona went on, but when different "diversities" rub up against each other that can be a problem. You've got to buy into liberal democracy. 

Natasha persisted in her point that the state is failing and there's discrimination. (50% of people in French jails are Muslim, she said - obviously blaming the French state for that). 

Mona said that shouldn't "eclipse the other problems", and it's a chicken and egg situation anyhow. Problems like low educational standards could be the result of problems within these communities or within society as a whole. It's hard to measure.  

Kay said many do live integrated lives; others don't. Everyone should respect each other. 

Mona said that a lack of integration and extremism don't necessarily tie up and Natasha surprisingly agreed with her, saying that many of the people who have gone off to fight in Syria (etc) come from fairly comfortable backgrounds and that "to simplify it to being a question of deprivation or exclusion is fairly inaccurate" - though that is what she herself appeared to have been arguing all along up till that point! 

As for their concluding comments? Well, Mona said she loved France when she lived there and would be happy to live there again; Natasha said that being Jewish in France isn't a problem and that French secularism is being used by politicians - and damagingly so for "cohesiveness"; and Kay said that we should hold on to cross-cultural unity but that France is a place where you can be many things, thanks to French secularism.

As for presenter Ernie Rea, he let it all flow and gave the 'anti-Islamophobia' guy a fair hearing but raised sceptical point about the man's incessant blaming of the French state both during the interview and after it.

As I say, well worth a listen - though I probably should have put something about 'spoilers' at the top of the post first!

As for my second bouquet, that must go to Andrew Marr and this morning's Start the Week on Russian from the Tsars to Putin - and not forgetting the commissars. 

It had Simon Sebag Montefiore on the Romanovs, presenting a highly juicy take on their wickedness (which suggests that his blockbuster on them probably isn't written 'in the academic style'); plus Amanda Vickery on the Siege of Leningrad and that Shostokovich symphony; Arkady Ostrovsky on the fall of the Soviet Union, very interestingly putting the case for Boris Yeltsin (among other things); and David Aaronovitch engagingly discussing his communist parents' cult-like ties to The Party.

Also well worth a listen. 

1 comment:

  1. Mona Siddiqui's comments were a surprise, given the occasional TFTD I've heard from her. If all followers of Islam thought and acted like her, there would be no problems to speak of. However, I have no idea how she squares her commitment to liberal democracy and tolerance of other faiths with the clear injunctions in the Koran and Hadith, and the Sharia legal judgements down the centuries.


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