“Secularism does not provoke terrorism”

“Secularism does not provoke terrorism”

On March 22, 2016, Brussels suffered its worst terrorist attack in its history.

This mass killing was perpetrated by people calling themselves jihadists, those who fight for the supremacy of Islam over the rest of the world.

Most of them, even though they trained in Syria, were born in Europe. How can European citizens reject their own countries so much that they kill their own fellow citizens?

In the attempt to find a culprit, throughout the political debates, some started to question the very roots of the approach each country has in dealing with religion.

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Two main arguments emerged throughout the debates: a liberal argument and a secular argument. In the liberal model, when an individual feels the need to express his or her particularism within public space (professional space, streets, social activities space, school, etc.), society should adapt itself to his or her needs. Therefore, society should promote the existence of communities.

On the other hand, the secular model states that individual particularism should stay in the private sphere. It should not interfere in the public space to prevent discrimination or proselytism in an attempt to promote social mix instead of the social compartments that are within communities. However, is one model provoking more terrorism than the other?

Three days after the Brussels attack, two American scholars, William McCants and Christopher Meserole, published an article on Brookings’ website called “The French connection: Explaining Sunni Militancy Around the World.”

In this article, they created a link between the recent terrorist attacks in French-speaking countries (France, Tunisia and Belgium) and what they call “French political culture.”

Under this quite obscure expression, the accused of being responsible for the rise of Islamic radicalism is what I call the secular model.

Nevertheless, it was not the first time that this model was criticized. In 2004, a vigorous polemic started when a law was passed which banned the Muslim veil, or hijab, from all schools before University (including high school). The criticism came back when a new law forbidding niqabs and hijabs in public spaces was passed in 2011.

From the liberal perspective, the French secularism is viewed as a threat to freedom. But in France, it is viewed as a legitimate constraint and even if unpleasant, a constraint for the greater good.

French secularism finds its roots in the Age of Enlightenment, and its first legal form appeared in 1905 with the Law on the Separation of the Churches and the State. Consequently, since “Churches” is plural, secularism is not focusing on Islam.

Jewish Kippah or large Christian crosses are also banned from schools in the names of equality and universality.

Moreover, the 2004 law differentiates “ostentatious” religious symbols from “discrete” ones. In other words, anyone can keep a religious symbol with themselves as long as it is not too visible.

In the end, the main issue for France and Belgium is that large isolated Muslim communities appeared over the past decades, while their ideological model is trying to promote social mix.

Those communities are accumulating social status, religion and geographical location — neighborhoods with Muslim majorities are, on average, poorer than the others — which foster the anger of their members and their hatred for the State.

The combination of those social factors with the degree of involvement in the fight against Islamic radicalism — France has been massively involved in the war against Islamic terrorism over the past six years — could be at the center of the debate about the roots of Muslim radicalization in France and Belgium.

However, secularism does not provoke terrorism.

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