In France, there is not a Muslim community, but a Muslim population

Olivier Roy writes: The attack against the Paris satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo has re-launched an ongoing debate in France about the compatibility between Islam and the West. The issue is more fraught in Western Europe than in the United States because of the huge number of Muslims who are not only settled there, but who also have citizenship.

By a strange coincidence, on the same day of the deadly attack on Charlie Hebdo, we saw the long awaited release of the most recent novel by the bestselling French author Michel Houellebecq, titled “Submission.” The book imagines the victory of a moderate Muslim party in the 2022 French presidential and parliamentary elections.

The issue of the compatibility between Islam and French or Western political culture is no longer confined to the usual suspects: the populist right, conservative Christians or staunch secularists from the left. The issue has become emotional and now pervades the entire political spectrum. The Muslim population — which does not identify with the terrorists — now fears an anti-Muslim backlash.

Roughly speaking, two narratives are conflicting: the dominant one claims that Islam is the main issue, because it puts loyalty toward the faith community before loyalty to the nation, it does not accept criticism, does not compromise on norms and values and condones specific forms of violence like jihad. For the adherents of this narrative, the only solution is a theological reformation that would generate a “good” Islam that is a liberal, feminist and gay-friendly religion. Journalists and politicians are always tracking the “good Muslims” and summoning them to show their credentials as “moderate.”

On the other side, many Muslims, secular or believers, supported by a multiculturalist left, claim that radicalization does not come from Islam but from disenfranchised youth who are victims of racism and exclusion, and that the real issue is Islamophobia. They condemn terrorism while denouncing the backlash that could in turn radicalize more Muslim youth.

The problem is that both narratives presuppose the existence of a French “Muslim community” of which the terrorists are a sort of “vanguard.” [Continue reading…]

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