As France Goes, So Goes the U.S.?
Robert Klein Engler, ChronWatch, Feb. 13
“In primary and secondary state schools, wearing signs and clothes that conspicuously display the pupil’s religious affiliation is forbidden.” So reads the new law that the French National Assembly recently approved. Deputies voted 494 to 36 to ban Muslim headscarves, Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses from state schools. Pupils who insist on wearing these signs and clothes are threatened with expulsion.
Of France’s 250,000 Muslim pupils, 1,256 girls have insisted on wearing head scarves. Four students have been expelled for disobedience, according to ‘The Tablet, a London-based Catholic weekly newspaper. Regardless of these numbers, current opinion polls show more than 70% of the French support the ban on religious symbols in schools.
The bill banning the display of religious symbols goes to the Senate and then back to the French National Assembly for final approval in mid-March. Most expect the law to be in effect by September. In the meantime, debate about the law and opposition to it continues. Protest marches have assembled where the old cry of the French revolution is once again heard: ”Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.” It is ironic that the secular heirs of this revolution now have their own rhetoric used against them.
Although the new law in France bans religious symbols in general, many know the law is aimed at the Muslim women and girls who wear their headscarves to school. They also knows that the law is proposed because assimilation of Muslims into French society has failed. Secular liberalism may be a good idea, but it is a particularly Western idea, not one with universal cultural appeal.
What is happening in France is also happening in other European countries and also in the United States: massive immigration has caused massive social and political problems, not the least being a challenge to the liberal ideology that makes such immigration possible.
The debate over religious symbols in public schools isn’t confined to France, which hosts the largest Muslim population in Western Europe. Belgium has introduced a bill that not only would ban students from wearing religious symbols in public schools, but also would ban government employees from doing likewise. Some German states are considering similar laws.
The ideology set in motion by the Enlightenment and the French Revolution envisioned a day when the forces of organized religion would no longer have a hold over the minds of men. The benefits of a secular society would be freedom from religious wars and superstitions.
It took almost 300 years to work all this out in Europe. After two disastrous world wars, it was concluded that finally a secular civilization could be built on the ruins of the old Europe. It all looked possible until the mass immigration of Muslims from north Africa and the Middle East took place. Now Europe is on the verge of more religious wars.
The question of immigration and assimilation is not just a hot topic in France these days, but in the European Union as well. In an Associated Press article by Frances D’Emilio, we read about European countries grappling with tensions over immigration. He writes, ”Predominantly Catholic Italy is in the middle of a difficult debate over whether crucifixes should be removed from public schools. Two other traditionally Christian nations, France, and Germany, are wrestling with the question of whether women wearing Islamic headscarves challenge their secular societies.”
Furthermore, politicians throughout Europe are also divided over whether the EU’s new constitution should refer to the continent’s Judeo-Christian roots. The 15-member European Union is discussing whether God should be mentioned in a new constitution. Charlotte Knobloch, leader of Munich’s Jewish community, recently told a gathering that a reference to God is ”essential to avoid the rebirth of totalitarian regimes.”
“There is growing fear of immigration in Europe,” Italy’s interior minister, Giuseppe Pisanu, said. ”We fear for our security, for our identity, for our jobs and social stability.” The latest statistics show Italy’s population is growing thanks to its immigrants, including hundreds of thousands of Muslims. It looks as if secularism is being attacked from both ends of the political spectrum in Europe.
Later in February of this year, the 737th Wilton Park Conference will take place in Britain. The conference will focus on ”Immigration Into Europe: How Should It Be Managed?” Topics to be discussed at the conference include: What are the main causes and effects of increased immigration into Europe; How can we gauge the number of immigrants needed to fuel economic growth and plug the ”demographic” gap; and What is the correct balance between homeland values and immigrant cultures for successful coexistence?
Many of the topics at the Wilton Park Conference pick up where a 2002 article in ”La Vanguardia” leaves off. Written by Emory University Professor Kenneth W. Stein, who teaches Middle Eastern History and Politics, the article, ”Consequences of Mass Arab Immigration to Europe” is important reading for those interested in the future of the continent.
Professor Stein writes, ”Two recently released official reports (European and Arab), which evaluated current demographic characteristics and future trends suggest that Europe faces a potential Arab immigrant onslaught, perhaps as great as America endured during the European immigration of the 19th and early 20th centuries.”
Europe’s aging population will continue to be labor-thirsty for the next two decades; the population of the Arab Middle East is exploding and looking to move. Stein continues, ”If Arab supply meets European demand over the next twenty years, what are the implications? European immigrants to the United States altered American culture, urban demographics, spawned nativism, and changed the nature of domestic politics. There is no reason to believe an Arab migration of undefined magnitude will not similarly alter Europe’s political, social, and cultural landscape…”
“So, what happens when European labor demand meets Arab supply over the next two decades and beyond,” Stein asks? He answers, ”In Europe, Muslim immigration will effect national and local elections, delivery of health care, urban growth, pressures on infrastructure needs, real estate prices, labor issues, cultural changes, and demands on social protection packages.”
The new Muslim immigrants will bolster also sagging economies of the Middle East with remittances back home as the flood of Mexican immigrants to the U. S, bolsters the Mexican economy. In the short term, this may help alleviate poverty in the Arab world, but it prevents long term structural changes in Mexico and the Muslim countries. Remittances back home do not allow future economic growth nor alleviate the poverty that fuels immigration to begin with.
In the same vein as Stein’s argument, the ”Arab Development Report,” released in July 2002 and written by a team of Arab scholars and intellectuals, noted that a ”mismatch between aspirations and their fulfillment has in some cases led to (Arab) alienation, apathy and discontent.”
The Arab world today is composed of 280 million people. That population is likely to grow to 400-450 million by 2020. The ADR notes that ”more than 15% of the Arab labor force is unemployed…with few job opportunities at home, just over half of the young people in the Arab world (13-20 year olds), want to emigrate to industrialized countries. Europe, the UK, and the U. S. are the most desirable areas for relocation. The supposition is likely that the most literate and talented Arabs will create a ”brain drain,” leaving the poor and un(der)educated in the Middle East.”
Muslims make up 10% of the French population, now. In the past, liberalism argued that various ethnic groups could be assimilated into the secular state and live in harmony as good citizens. It was just a matter of time for all to be converted to the ideals of a liberal, secular democracy. We see now that liberal ideology does not describe the reality of contemporary immigration in Europe or the U. S.
Ethnic and minority groups are not assimilating as predicted. Furthermore, culture, and especially religion, are not lessening their hold on the lives of immigrants. Instead of a melting pot, the modern liberal, secular state looks more like a cafeteria where all manner of ethnic choices are available. The French, always concerned with good cooking, now want to put an end to this motley array of dishes and insist on one and only one menu.
French President Chirac’s Cabinet passed the draft of the legislation banning religious symbols, saying that the law would help protect France’s secular culture. ”The decision to ban conspicuous signs in school is a decision that respects our history, our customs and our values,” a Chirac spokesman said. ”To do nothing would be irresponsible. It would be wrong.”
More is at stake here than just girls wearing headscarves. We may be witnessing also the collapse of the liberal ideology that supports the secular state and uncontrolled immigration from nonwestern countries. Some have argued that Islam is incompatible with the values of the West. The resistance of the Muslim immigrants in France to assimilation is proof of that. The conflict over headscarves is yet another example of what happens when opaque, foreign elements are brought into the midst of a Western nation.
The future holds nothing but continued conflict for the French, if they insist upon holding to the liberal, secular ideology that got them in immigration trouble in the first place. In the new game of international and ethnic conflicts, when we shuffle the cards of culture, religion always trumps economics.
As more uncontrolled immigration comes from the south, both to Europe and to the U. S., we may see a replay of religious conflicts no one wants. A Muslim invasion of Europe could be a replay of the Crusades, and a Mexican invasion of the U. S., could be a replay of the 30 years wars. Forces are at work that do not bode well for a peaceful future. Left unexamined, the liberal dream of a secular world free to pursue economic ends is quickly becoming a nightmare.
According to some demographic experts, the Muslim population in France could grow from a current 8% minority of France’s 60 million people, to a majority in 25 years. The migration of Muslims from Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Senegal to France, that began fifty years ago is larger than any other influx of immigrants France has experienced. The French also face the external threat of being absorbed by the larger European Union.
Pushed by the Muslims within and pulled by the European Union without, in 25 years France as we know it, could simply disappear. The political struggle over headscarves comes as a warning to other secular states who imagine a society free of religious conflict yet open to immigration. Unless these states control immigration and further assimilation, their days are numbered.
Robert Klein Engler lives in Chicago. His book, ”A Winter of Words,” about the ethnic cleansing at Daley College, is available from amazon.com.