By Adam Jones from Kelowna, BC, Canada [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Adam Jones from Kelowna, BC, Canada [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

To stop radicalization, France overhauls secularism teachings.

A year post “Charlie Hebdo” attacks by terrorists, French officials are quick to accelerate efforts made to blot out violent extremism. A particular measure involves the broadening of police powers to detain suspected terrorists and conduct raids. The French Supreme Court is presently going through a bill which will make such state of emergency tools, now temporary, a permanent one.

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the women’s rights' minister and spokesperson of the Hollande government, said that France is now overhauling the way it teaches civic values and secularism. This is being done as a component of the nation's drive against radicalization and terrorism. Belkacem said that it is necessary to re-appropriate the laicite (secularism in French) so that young pupils understand that whatever their faith, all French citizens are integral to this idea and none are excluded. Secularism protects all, and is not against anyone.

There are worries that if it is not done, the young and the impressionable would fall into the clutches of the Islamic State and a few other extremist groups. The respect for civil liberties could be endangered due to the increase of police powers. The imposition of government control over Islam in France has the possibility of driving large number of Muslims to the hands of the radical sects. It is therefore much more effective to concentrate the efforts on integrating Muslims into French society. This involves examining the career and educational opportunities available to immigrants and also to their families. Such steps will provide them an upward mobility along with a much better chance to assimilate in the French workforce.

France is structured as a secular republic. It clearly separates the state and the church. The constitution is designed to bring about equality for every private belief. The role of the state is to remain neutral when it comes to religion. It also must protect the freedom of every French citizen to practice his or her own faith. The French government, in 2004, imposed a ban on girls wearing Islamic headscarves when they study in state schools. Symbols of other religions, like turbans or crosses are also banned. The government argued that schools must be shed of all religion.

According to Vallaud-Belkacem, France is refurbishing the way it teaches secularism as rightist politicians have twisted the concept during the last few years. Instead of feeling inclusive, laicite to many young pupils represented a kind of personal attack. This is why, according to her, the concept of secularism must be remade and presented. 

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