France has a terrorism problem. The nation was reminded of that fact on July 14, when a radicalized Islamist drove a truck filled with grenades though a crowd celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, killing 84 people and injuring hundreds more. It was the latest in a series of deadly terrorist attacks in the European nation dating back to January 2015, beginning with the deadly Charlie Hebdo attacks, and punctuated by the November 2015 Paris attacks.
On the surface, France and the U.S. – which has a terrorism problem of its own – share similarities. Both are culturally Christian yet religiously diverse, with small Muslim minorities. Citizens of both places enjoy personal freedoms that are all but unthinkable in some Muslim countries, including the freedom to insult Islam and the prophet Mohammed. Both countries grapple with the matter of immigration, particularly when it comes to Muslim immigrants who sometimes struggle to adjust to Western freedoms and values.
The difference between the two countries is that the U.S., while not without its anti-Muslim sentiment, is generally accepting of its Muslim population (for the moment, anyway), and allows Muslims to live and practice freely. France, on the other hand, is borderline openly hostile to its Muslim population.
Part of the problem stems from France’s aggressive attempts to remain secular. In the U.S., public displays of religious faith are accepted and are par for the course; you can thank the First Amendment for that. That means that, in the same way a Christian can wear a cross in a public place (such as at work or in school), a Muslim can wear a hijab (headscarf) in the same places, and the law backs up the rights of both.
France makes no such pretext. In its zeal to protect what the French call laïcité (the French term for the separation of church and state), France has banned girls from wearing the hijab in French schools. Similarly, French courts have backed up the rights of employers to fire Muslim women from wearing the hijab in their workplaces, according to The New York Times.
Hijab of the day hari ini, MissLofa plain, one of the masterpiece kegemaran dari @Neelofa pic.twitter.com/v9UjxL5f5U
— Daengdaeng (@AshizentL) July 7, 2016
This attitude makes French Muslims feel like a persecuted minority, they say, to say nothing of the fact that the right to religious expression is a basic human right.
France’s antagonism towards its Muslim minority goes beyond its headscarf ban, however. There’s also the matter that, in the wake of the November 2015 Paris attacks, French police have stepped up their surveillance of Muslims, according to The Verge, conducting warrantless raids on Muslims, seizing personal data, and placing Muslims under house arrest — all without authorization from a judge.
Such hostility undoubtedly contributes to the radicalization of French Muslims, especially its young males, many of whom are forced to live in crowded ghettos with few employment prospects. And while France takes its heavy-handed approach to dealing with radicalization of Muslims, it only succeeds in further radicalizing other Muslims.
And it’s mistake that, unfortunately, some American politicians want to make.
Not long after the Nice attacks, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich suggested that U.S. authorities need to start questioning American Muslims about their beliefs, according to BBC News.
“Western civilization is in a war. We should frankly test every person here who is of a Muslim background and if they believe in Sharia they should be deported.”
— The New York Times (@nytimes) July 15, 2016
Gingrich’s suggestion is, of course, impractical, illegal, and, most of all, immoral. The Constitution forbids it, the rule of law forbids it, and most of all, any basic understanding of human rights, combined with the decency that permeates the fabric of American society should regard it as antithetical.
America’s relationship with its Muslim minority is, though strained at times, mostly peaceful, and it needs to stay that way. Taking on an aggressive approach to Muslims that persecutes them and treats them as enemies will only perpetuate more terrorism, not stop it.
It’s a lesson that France has failed to learn.
[AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani]