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Joaquim Filioca
Joaquim Filioca

Secularism observatory makes French Republic observers angry

Friday 25/January/2019 - 02:40 PM
Secularism observatory

The Observatory on Secularism helps the French government show abidance by the principles of secularism. The observatory gathers information and makes studies and analyses that aim at raising awareness inside government circles about secularism.

Secularism observatory

This is what the observatory writes on its website. The observatory contains 21 members. They are the most senior parliamentary officials. They also include representatives of the civil society as well as public figures, such as the renowned philosopher Abdennour Bidar and Donia Buzarati who ran an anti-extremism center that proved utter failure. Buzarati's appointment of an Islamist who had just got out of jail tarnished her reputation a lot.

The observatory conducts interviews with hundreds of influential figures and education employees every year. By doing this, it aims at taking the pulse of society on the presence of religion in public life as an issue. This is a very sensitive issue. The observatory then presents recommendations and views. It also plays a leading role in making civil servants aware of the importance of separating religion from state.

The observatory releases a huge report every year. The 2017/2018 report contains several recommendations, including the importance of appointing new clerics to address Muslim inmates. The recommendations also include the need for training future schoolteachers in secularism.

A new university degree was created for new clerics. The observatory makes recommendations when it comes to the slaughter of sacrificial animals by Muslims. It suggests the establishment of makeshift slaughterhouses for the Feast of Sacrifice.

Jean-Louis Bianco, a member of the General Assembly of France, expresses opposition in the report to the rise of Islamism in France. He holds French officials responsible for this.

Bianco talks about the presence of sectarian segregation in France, which gives the impression that Muslims are victims in the French society, whereas the reality is that they are treated well in France.

"The presence of social pressures reveals the presence of sectarianism and the presence of sectarianism shows the presence of sectarian segregation, which means that public policies are ineffective," he says.

On page 59, the report says that those at the center of the educational process, namely parents and the teachers, are not objective. This is why those wearing the Islamic headgear can talk about their religious beliefs.

On page 265, the report says Saudi Arabia had started moving toward religious moderation. This shows that the observatory has started to adopt lenient policies toward Wahhabi Salafism.

Secularism observatory

Divisive issue no. 1: Statement signed with Muslim Brotherhood

On the anniversary of November 15, 2015 and two days after the Paris attacks, an article titled, "We are united", and signed by Bianco and the representatives of several Muslim Brotherhood organizations and several Brotherhood figures, was published.

The article contained demands for preserving national unity. Nonetheless, the way the article was written was not traditional. It did not describe, even for once, the terrorists as either jihadists or radicals. It described the Paris attacks as a "lethal insanity driven by a deadly and inhuman ideology".

Three days after the publication of the article, then-French prime minister Manuel Valls criticized Bianco's initiative to reach out to the Islamists.

"The observatory does not have the right to distort secularism," the French prime minister said. "We cannot launch campaigns for denouncing terrorism in collaboration with organizations I view as partners in a smelly environment."

Secularism observatory

Nicolas Cadene lashing out at Elisabeth Badinter

There is another argument around the severe reaction the General Rapporteur of the observatory, Nicolas Cadene, made to an interview philosopher and author Elisabeth Badinter made with the French public radio channel France Inter.

We should not be afraid, Badinter said, of being described as "Islamophobic", when we defend secularism.

The Islamists strongly denounced Badinter's statements. She made the interview in January 2016. It was focused on the Charlie Hebdo attack.

Cadene reacted to the interview by writing on Twitter that the interview had destroyed three years of educational work [by his observatory].

Reactions then came by quickly. Valls, who was the French interior minister at the time, said that he would meet Bianco soon to remind him that the observatory cannot distort the realities of secularism.

Mohamed Safawi, a journalist specialized in Islamism, also defended Badinter. He described Cadene as "pitiful".

"Badinter follows in the footsteps of Manuel Valls who says the Republic does not need either the Salafists or the Muslim Brotherhood," he said.

Three heavy-weight members of the observatory then submitted their resignations. They fulminated at Cadene's statements. These members were the former socialist minister Jean Calvani, Francoise Laborde, and Partick Kessel, the head of the Republic Secularism Committee.

On January 11, the three figures issued a joint statement in which they suspended their participation in the activities of the observatory, demanding an apology from the general rapporteur.

Bianco then described the statement as both "unacceptable" and "laughable".

Laurence Marchand, the leftist candidate who founded a secularism observatory with Safawi in Val d'Oise, called in January 2016 for Bianco's resignation from the observatory.

Secularism observatory

The headgear

The latest argument was instigated in January. Two months earlier, the observatory was asked to opine on the application of secularism during the comprehensive national service which would have applied to middle school pupils.

The observatory recommended a ban on religious symbols in public schools. It also said this should not apply to pupils between the ages of 14 and 16 during the national service which usually lasts for 15 days.

Journalist Anna Cabana asked the minister of education on January 8 about the decision.

National service, she said, aims to integrate youth into one common mould.

The minister replied by saying that the observatory did not consult him before making its recommendation in this regard.

"I will not abide by this recommendation of course," the minister said. "They are wrong."

The observatory also recommended giving pupils halal meals. It said this should be done during the national service, especially if this is a religious ritual, not a cultural practice. It added that there would be nothing wrong with this so long as it does not violate the regulations of the national service.

The fact is that we had barely succeeded in preventing the presence of veiled girls in the national services. Still the question that needs to be asked is: When can Bianco be kicked out of this observatory?