Mario Rizzo on Multiculturalism in France
~ Frederic Sautet ~Mario has an excellent
comment on a Financial Times article
on the uproar created by a French restaurant chain that decided to sell
Halal meat to its customers in some of its restaurants. Aside from the fact that the restaurant chain (Quick) is state-owned (since 2007), which creates problems of its own, this and many other
episodes in France and other EU countries show how difficult it is for French
people and other Europeans to reckon with the ideas of freedom and multiculturalism –
religious and otherwise.
As I mentioned in
the comment section, the French are in love with the idea of “laïcité,” which means
that government and society must not only be secular but also free from
any strong cultural values that might dominate. This secularism, French style,
is a difficult notion to translate and explain in English, but it permeates the
ambient discourse in government and in the media.
The trouble with
this idea is that, unlike what the French believe, it is not value free. Don’t
think that “laïcité” is simply another word for individual freedom – it is not.
It is value-laden with values that come directly from the French Revolution and
its attempt to use rational constructivism to reform society. The abolition of the
Catholic Church and its replacement with the worship of “Reason,” for instance, finds
its modern embodiment in “laïcité.”
The French are
utterly confused as to what multiculturalism really means. This is because many of them morally reject the market system as the ultimate coordination mechanism of all values. Rejecting the market makes it difficult to pursue a truly multicultural
society, as Mario explains. Thus the search for a third way, based on “laïcité,” which supposedly
imposes no value and presents no threat to the state.
continue to exist for the French state. France has many minorities. The Muslims
for instance form 10% of society. Halal food is just one issue among many. How
to deal with the display of religious belief in general is a big question that
can hardly be reconciled under French-style secularism. The French, and especially the French government, want
multiculturalism, but as long as everyone complies with la pensée unique.