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Farhad Khosrokhavar is director of studies at EHHS, the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, in Paris.
PARIS – A new series of jihadist attacks rocked France. The most recent, in a church in Nice, left three people dead, just two weeks after a teacher was beheaded on the outskirts of Paris after displaying caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in his classroom.
Why is France targeted, over and over again, by violent extremists? Germany, England, Italy and even Denmark – where Mohammed’s controversial cartoons were first published – have not experienced comparable violence.
The reason is simple: France’s extreme form of secularism and its adherence to blasphemy, which fueled radicalism within a marginalized minority.
Specifically, the latest wave of violence follows the decision made earlier this month by satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo to mark the start of a trial for a deadly attack on its press room in 2015 by reposting the blasphemous cartoons of Mohammed. that caused the initial assault.
This duo – radical secularism and religious radicalism – has since engaged in a murderous dance.
Traditionally, French secularism requires the State to be neutral and calls for respect for religions in the public sphere, in order to avoid the rise of religious intolerance.
In modern times, however, it has become something much more extreme. The moderate secularism that prevailed as recently as the 1970s has been replaced by something more like civil religion.
It is a belief system that has its own priests (government ministers), pontiff (the president of the republic), acolytes (intellectuals) and heretics (anyone who calls for a less antagonistic attitude towards Islam is rejected. and described as Islamo-leftist ”).
One of the defining characteristics of this new secularism is the promotion of religious blasphemy – and, in particular, its extreme expression in the form of caricatures like those of Muhammad.
This embrace was fully manifested after the murder of the teacher who showed caricatures of Muhammad in his classrooms, when many French intellectuals praised the blasphemy and unequivocally defended the defense of the right to free expression of government.
They should have thought more carefully about their words.
In Western Europe, the right to blaspheme is legally recognized. But it is one thing to protect the freedom to blaspheme and another to enthusiastically urge blasphemy, as is the case in France.
Blasphemy is a non-argumentative and sarcastic form of free speech. It should be used, at best, in moderation in a country where between 6 and 8% of the population is Muslim, most of whose parents or grandparents have emigrated from the French colonies in North Africa.
Defenders of blasphemy invoke freedom of expression, but what blasphemy does, in fact, is trap France in a vicious cycle of responsiveness to jihadist terror that makes it less free and less autonomous.
The immoderate use of cartoons in the name of the right to blaspheme ultimately undermines public debate: it stigmatizes and humiliates even the most moderate or secular Muslims, many of whom do not understand the obsessive focus of French laity on Islam, the veil, daily prayers or Islam. teachings.
The result is a nefarious cycle: provocation, counter-provocation and a society’s descent into hell. With the radicalization of French secularism, the number of jihadist attacks in the country has multiplied.
French laity claim to be fighting for freedom of expression. In doing so, innocent people die, Muslims around the world reject French values and boycott the country’s products, and French Muslims face restrictions on their freedom of expression in the name of thwarting Islamist propaganda.
France is paying a heavy price for its fundamentalist secularism, both inside and outside its own borders.