Wednesday, February 25, 2004
The recent French efforts to ban the wearing of all "ostentatious" religious symbols (but especially Muslim headscarves) in schools has attracted criticism from Catholics, including the French bishops and the Pope, and it is tempting to take it for granted that it is another sorry chapter in the the story of what George Weigel recently referred to in an excellent First Things article as "Europe's Problem -- and Ours." But here's a discussion by Fr. Samir Khalil Samir, a Jesuit priest and influential Islamic studies scholar, that complicates the question a bit. Fr. Samir notes that "In reality, for those who are familiar with the Muslim world and its facets, today’s problem is not freedom of conscience. It is a socio-political problem. What kind of society is being sought after? There is an 'Islamicist' plan underway, which aims at visibly affirming Islamic life as different in all aspects... Whoever is opposed to this plan is intolerant and racist, as he does not respect the religions convictions of Muslims." A fuller discussion of the issue with Samir (in Italian) appeared recently in Avvenire, the newspaper ofthe Italian bishops, and another interesting discussion comes from Sandro Magister's regular column (which is very often worth reading, by the way). I do not know enough about the dynamics of Islam in Europe to judge whether Samir's assessment is sound, but it does give one pause, especially in light of yesterday's Al-Queda threat that the headscarf issue in France will be a rallying point for their organization and launching of yet more inhuman violence and hatred. I'd be interested in whether my co-bloggers have any views about the proposed French law and, more broadly, about whether the presence of violent Islamicist political ideology ought to qualify in any way the basic approach to religious freedom that you would otherwise favor and advance.