Survey reveals attitudes of French citizens of Arab origin toward secularism

Survey reveals attitudes of French citizens of Arab origin toward secularism
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Sixty-five percent French Arabs surveyed affirm that they would defend the French values of secularism in their country of origin. (Shutterstock)
Survey reveals attitudes of French citizens of Arab origin toward secularism
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Sixty-five percent French Arabs surveyed affirm that they would defend the French values of secularism in their country of origin. (Shutterstock)
Survey reveals attitudes of French citizens of Arab origin toward secularism
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People pay tribute to the dead outside Notre Dame Basilica in Nice, France following a terrorist attack. France recently witnessed a wave of terrorist attacks. (AFP)
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Updated 30 November 2020

Survey reveals attitudes of French citizens of Arab origin toward secularism

Survey reveals attitudes of French citizens of Arab origin toward secularism
  • The majority of Arabs in France accept French secularism but oppose a more militant version of the principle
  • Some are worried about new regulations treating Muslims very differently from other believers

LONDON: The opinion poll carried out jointly by Arab News and YouGov provides detailed data on the relationship of French people of Arab origin to secularism in France and reveals a generally benevolent view of the French model.

Indeed, 65 percent of the people questioned affirm that they would defend the French values of secularism in their country of origin. Among the over-45s 80 percent share this opinion. Less than half (46 percent) believe that the French model is not appropriate for Arab countries.

Secularism “the French way” is running up against a wall of incomprehension in the Arab-Muslim world, as strong tensions have demonstrated in recent weeks with some countries calling for a boycott of France.

The French model is mainly based on a triptych set out in the 1905 law on the separation of churches and state: the separation of politics and religion, state neutrality and respect for freedom of conscience. Even though the 1905 law was passed in an anti-clerical context, it is not fundamentally hostile to religion.

The French of Arab origin largely adhere to the 1905 definition of secularism but are reluctant to go beyond it. So 62 percent are opposed to the state restricting the wearing of religious clothing, with the proportion even higher among the younger generation (71 percent). However, responses varied according to the level of income. Of those questioned 34 percent of people with an income below €20,000 ($24,000) per year are in favor of more restrictive laws, compared to 49 percent of people with an income above €40,000.

Since the turn of the century, several laws have been adopted to limit the wearing of religious symbols, such as the 2004 law prohibiting the wearing of religious symbols in schools, and the 2010 law prohibiting the wearing of the burqa in public spaces.

“The French Muslims have generally accepted these new laws and respect them, but are worried about new regulations treating Muslims very differently from other believers,” said Haoues Seniguer, lecturer at Sciences Po Lyon University and a researcher at the Triangle laboratory (ENS/CNRS).

INNUMBERS

  • 65% willing to defend French secularism in their country of origin.
  • 62% oppose state restrictions on wearing religious clothing.

More and more politicians are calling for strong measures in a more radical secularism, in particular to limit the wearing of the veil in public spaces, for example at universities, or when the parents of pupils accompany school trips.

There are two visions of secularism in France. On one hand, there is the liberal legacy of the Third Republic embodied by the French statesman Aristide Briand — who served 11 terms as prime minister and introduced the law of 1905 — for which secularism does not have to interfere with the religiosity of individuals. On the other hand, there is a militant secularism, which considers secularism as a form of individual emancipation with regard to religion.

This second vision of secularism is on the rise today, and it is creating tensions among French Muslims, Seniguer said.

The polarization around the debate on Islam and secularism is not new. “Militant secularism was reinforced at the beginning of the 1990s, in a context of the growing visibility of Muslims in the public spaces and of identity claims, as illustrated by the affair of the scarf of Creil in 1989 (when three Muslim girls were suspended for wearing scarves in school),” Seniguer said.

Moreover, this period has also coincided with that of a globalized Islam and the advance of Islamists in several countries, such as the FIS in Algeria, which has sometimes manifested itself in violence.

The new law against separatism or “consolidating secularism and republican principles,” which has been toughened since the assassination of Samuel Paty, the teacher murdered in a Paris suburb in October, will be on the table of the Council of Ministers on December 9. Enough to further fuel lively new debates on the future of French secularism.


Afghan refugee helping war widows escape poverty cycle

Afghan refugee helping war widows escape poverty cycle
Updated 26 min 51 sec ago

Afghan refugee helping war widows escape poverty cycle

Afghan refugee helping war widows escape poverty cycle

KABUL: When Hanan Habibzai became a refugee in 2008, he left Afghanistan with a sense of responsibility toward all those left behind, especially widows and orphaned children.
As he made the UK his new home and managed to establish himself, Habibzai founded Helping Orphans in 2016, a charity that gives vocational training and literacy courses to women and children.
Helping Orphans estimates that there are as many as 3.5 million widows and 2.6 million orphans in Afghanistan today. Often uneducated, the women face few options if their husbands die, while children end up working out of necessity and never receive an education.
“What will happen to these children when they grow up? Their parents are taken away and they are left alone in poverty and hardship, and they have never been in school,” Habibzai told Arab News.
“What can we expect from these children when they grow and take control of their communities except problems? So, I established this charity to help vulnerable children and orphans join school. These are the exact reasons as to why I established Helping Orphans.”
As his family was displaced by the Afghan-Soviet war of the 1980s, Habibzai knows from his own experience what hunger and poverty mean. The situation in the country has become even worse now, he said, after the US-led invasion to oust the Taliban in 2001.
Before he left Afghanistan, Habibzai worked as a journalist, traveling across the country’s provinces, witnessing hopelessness and despair.
“Within the Afghan poverty-stricken and war-torn nation, I see displaced families, a refugee going through many difficulties, a 10-year-old orphan becoming responsible for feeding his family, or a woman who has lost her husband and now has to look after her children while she has nothing,” he said.

FASTFACT

Helping Orphans estimates that there are as many as 3.5 million widows and 2.6 million orphans in Afghanistan today. Often uneducated, the women face few options if their husbands die, while children end up working out of necessity and never receive an education.

“Today I live in the UK. I have everything here. My family and I have three full meals a day. But back in Afghanistan, there are many people who do not even have a single meal a day and are facing severe poverty and hardship.”
The latest survey by the UN indicates that 18 million people in Afghanistan — half of the country’s population — are in need of emergency aid.
In the beginning, through donations from individuals, Helping Orphans provided direct relief in the form of food and cash, but in June last year Habibzai realized that more sustainable efforts were needed.
In Kabul, the charity now enrolls children in school while their mothers take part in three-month courses to become tailors, allowing them to be self-reliant. About 20 women have completed the first training courses. One of them is Shamila, who lost her husband, a commando soldier, and was left alone with a young son about two years ago.
“The world had come to an end for me with the death of his father when my child wept,” she told Arab News.
“I joined the workshop of the charity, learned tailoring and it has been a big change both mentally and financially,” she added. “I am a tailor at home now. I earn money this way and have been able to stand on my feet.”
The charity is now planning to open more courses and teach other professions, like hairdressing, to help women provide for themselves.
“We want the aid to have a long-term impact on the lives of people, so beneficiaries can learn a profession,” said Helping Orphans Director Abdul Fatah Tayeb.
“We want them to learn how to fish rather than giving them a fish. The fundamental goal is to make people self-sufficient.”