I read with interest your article about the headscarf in France in Solidarity (3/43). I would like to make some comments.
First a point of detail, which nevertheless has its importance. Teachers who are members of Lutte Ouvrière and the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire have fought for the expulsion of the Lévy sisters in a high school outside Paris, in the working class district of Aubervilliers.
The two young girls had decided to become Muslims and to use the headscarf issue to rebel against their Jewish atheist father! Your article mentions the LCR but forgets to mention that Lutte Ouvrière has also fought for the expulsion of these two girls from the high school and justified its attitude in detail in its press.
You write that Lutte Ouvrière does not support the new law but thinks the law will be "un point d'appui" to defend women's rights. What's the bloody difference? And you don't mention that some right-wing MPs want to forbid all political signs, not only the religious ones.
Vicki Morris evokes the name of a "feminist writer of Iranian origin Chadhort Djavann, author of an influential book 'Down with the veil'."
I don't know if Ms Djavann is a "feminist" but what I know for sure is that she is a French nationalist of the worst sort. She goes on and on repeating in the press and on TV that France is a "great country", that foreigners who obtain the French nationality should participate in a formal ceremony praising the French flag and national anthem (a proposal put forward, among others, by Jean-Marie Le Pen, the leader of the National Front), that young French-Arabs don't realize how lucky they are to be born in France, etc.
Everytime she appears on a TV show with right-wing and extreme right-wing politicians or intellectuals, they always praise her and compliment her for her views, and she never attacks them. She comes from a very old and rich aristocratic Iranian family, and that may explain her social prejudices and basically right-wing politics.
Your article does not deal with what lies behind the discussion about the headscarf : the question of nationalism and "national unity". Vicki Morris starts her article quoting the slogan "Tous ensemble" (Let's join all together) but unfortunately she does not develop what it means politically in the present French context and in French history.
Jacques Chirac, the president of France, was elected by more than 80% of the votes a year ago, including the votes of LCR militants who voted "against Le Pen" (which in fact meant for Chirac, whether these comrades like it or not).
When Jacques Chirac talks about the "Republic", the "French values of democracy and secularism", he is trying to use nationalism as a cement between the different classes - and it is an efficient political trick.
Nationalism was an important political dimension of the French Revolution, the Paris Commune and the Second World War Resistance, an element shared by most left-wing tendencies until today. The French CP during the Second World War claimed to be the "Party of Joan of Arc" - a symbol for the extreme right. The National Front organises a special rally every year to praise this woman who "led the fight against foreign invasion".
One has to oppose all this rubbish about the "Republic", "the defence of secularism", the "Fatherlandism", the "French exception", "the French way of dealing with problems", etc., because it only fosters nationalism among the majority of French workers who already support the right and the extreme right parties with their votes and their racist attitudes.
As regards religion (Christian, Buddhist Jewish or Muslim), one has to actively fight against its influence, but it is wrong to support today (passively or actively) the intervention of the state in these matters and to support the new law.
The real problem is that the French revolutionary left has never made any serious effort to root itself in the working class districts where foreign workers form a significant minority. In some schools their children, who are French, are sometimes a majority.
Today, in these suburbs, not only are there no more Communist Party militants (which in a way is positive and an opportunity for revolutionaries), but the "Islamists" are quite active (which is catastrophic).
If one wants to fight the politics of the "Islamists", one must build strong youth organisations who will fight for the rights of young girls to dress and think the way they like, and link the fight against religion and for women's rights with the fight against capitalism. Such a youth organisation could explain, for example, that if so many people died in the last earthquake in Iran, it is because this country is run by the same corrupt Islamists who want to oblige young girls in France to wear a headscarf.
Unfortunately, the only groups who ever cared about foreign workers and their children in France were the Maoists in the 1960s and 1970s, and they supported a chauvinist policy both in France and abroad.
The question of the headscarf will continue to provoke political and social fights in France. Vicki Morris talks in her article of Muslim organisations in France. What she does not explain is that, until now, there were no significant religious (or political) organisations in the Muslim community. (Even the use of the word "community" is new in French politics.)
The only example was in the 1950s when the Algerian NLF was raising funds among the Algerians who lived in shanty towns around Paris and other big cities. It was compulsory to give money to the NLF (specially if you were Algerian and owned or managed a bar or a shop) and the NLF killed some of its political opponents on the French soil (the MNA, which was a rival nationalist tendency supported by the trotskyist OCI, today PT).
Each North African state has an immigrant organisation defending its undemocratic and corrupt government (and in the case of the Algerian official organisation, with strong links with the Sécurité Militaire, the Algerian political police and secret services), but none of these groups exerts a significant social role apart from spying on political opponents.
But today most Muslims in France are not foreign, they are French. That's why the situation is entirely new. Some people talk of five million French Muslims, but as it is forbidden to compile statistics based on religion in France, it is difficult to know if these numbers are true. But even if, let's say, there are three million French Muslims, it is quite clear that it is more difficult for them to build mosques and practice their religion than the Catholics, Protestants or Jewish people who have been living in France for centuries.
The right wing (following a proposal of the left which was never applied) has decided to create an institution regrouping the various Muslim tendencies and to present this Comité consultatif du culte musulman as the main voice of the French Muslim community. The danger is that, as it is happening with the Jews, this organisation will talk in the name of all the Muslims (whether they believe or not in Allah) and defend right-wing political positions and conservative religious views.
Today, in France nobody has an offensive attitude towards religion and religious alienation. More and more the argument is that religions have had a civilising role and should be tolerated or even praised for that so-called "positive" role in the history of humanity and in the history of France. One can see in official school books that references to the Bible are made as if this religious text has historical relevance.
The government wants to stress the importance of teaching the origins of the various religions, because religions are credited with transmitting positive values which could influence the attitudes of French children today.
One of the reasons of the hostility toward Muslim religion in France is the common prejudice that it is more reactionary than others, including Buddhism. Today it is "trendy" to present the Dalai Lama as an apostle of peace.
Artists and intellectuals promote Buddhism saying that this religion has never used violence to impose itself. But anybody who has studied the history of Japan knows that the struggle against shintoism (the dominant religion before Buddhism) was a bloody one and lasted several centuries.
And the violence Hindus use against Muslims in India today should convince anyone with a critical mind that religion does not prevent violence but is a source of alienation and can lead to the worst undemocratic attitudes.
For this reason any criticism against Islam in France should be always accompanied by criticisms of the other religions (especially the Catholic one - let's not forget that France was the "oldest daughter of the Roman Church for centuries"). Even if this position is not very popular, at least it would make the difference with the majority of the people who think that the only religion oppressing women is Islam.
- If you are interested, on the website www.mondialisme.org, you will find some articles included in N°6/7 of the journal Ni patrie ni frontières, dealing with the question of the headscarf, atheism, etc.
Yves Coleman, Paris