In this weekend’s edition of the Figaro, Marc Dugain in his editorial comments on a book written by the former Israeli embassador to France Elie Barnavie titled “Religions meurtrières” (Murderous religions)…
The columnist doesn’t say much about the book. He only borrows form it a couple of ideas and refers to it in order to back his opinions. He doesn’t even try to present the book’s possible background that is most likely both European and Israeli, two very different settings.
In Europe, the whole religious issue is mostly raised by Muslim immigrants, or their offspring. Christians, Jews and people of other faiths are not really challenging the secular consensus. They have generally adapted to it, as it has often had to adapt and compromise with them. This is not due to any intrinsic quality that they share and that Islam lacks. It’s largely owes to their evolution in the same environment as secularism; they have interacted with it for centuries and they have probably marked it as much as it has marked them. For certain, this interaction was often highly confrontational and sometimes quite brutal (most of the violence coming from the secular side these past centuries). Nevertheless, western secularism and western religiosity have grow accustomed to each others and respect a certain consensus that gradually came about through compromises from both sides.
Islam was neither part of the consensus or the compromise for a very simple reason; it wasn’t evolving in the same environment as western secularism. That was also true for Muslim populations living within the western empires, for secularism was never exported to the colonies, quite the contrary, Republican France, for instance, was combating the Catholic Church and catholic education at home, and encouraging it in the colonies.Marc Dugain makes a very silly argument when he says that there is no Arabic equivalent to “laïcité”. Actually there is and it’s 3almanyyat. It might not have the same etymology as “laïcité”, but that’s not important. One must keep in mind that the French word has a religious history and past. It’s part of the catholic terminology that refers to laity. Does that make it less republican or secularist?
In Israel, the situation is quite different. The religious issue is not linked to recent emigration or a group that is still perceived as being foreign to the polity. Quite the contrary, the challenge is coming from one of the groups that were part of the national consensus. Most Jewish religious groups were part of the Zionist consensus. And several compromises were made to keep the consensus alive. But in the recent years, religious Jewish groups have been challenging the very ambiguous and particular secular consensus Israel enjoys. We notice a growing rift between secular and religious Jews on major political issues and a mounting radicalization of some religious groups (and some secular groups) as their numbers and support base expand. These religious groups are coming to represent roughly a third of the Israeli Jewish population.
Dugain’s text is actually quite horrific and it’s closer to an anticlerical republican pamphlet to anything else. He’s approach to science is dogmatic quasi-religious. He doesn’t seem to believe in scientific conjectures but of undisputed truths. He cannot refrain himself from sallying the Pope in his only reference to Catholicism. He even speaks of caricature when referring to Benedict XVI’s lecture in Regensburg and puts it on the same level as the scathing attacks against the Prophet Muhammad and Islam carried out by Robert Redeker in the Figaro last September. Why didn’t he bother to read the Pope’s lecture before referring to it?
But his worst argument (that he claims to borrow from Elie Barnavi) is that “what distinguishes Muslims is their inability to practice their faith in the long run outside the State”. What he is actually referring to completely escapes me. He unfortunately doesn’t expand on it.