Friday, February 20, 2015


Islam, France, Hebdo, Laura Reeck, Sightings, Jean-Luc Marie, Anthony Yu, Bruce Lincoln, responsible freedom, freedom of speechTerror Seurity

Since the shooting on January 7, plenty of prominent figures have expressed notable opinions on the French situation.

I've selected four to cite: three from the e-journal, "Sightings," produced at the University of Chicago and a fourth from the journal "Post Colonial."

On January 29, "Sightings" ran an essay by U. of C. Professor Jean-Luc Marie, "Islam Must Open Itself To Critique."  

Marie declares, "France is at war." He sees three fronts in the war: France must defend itself from the danger of Islam, must also redefine and defend French secularism in positive terms, and Islam must self-critique its origins, texts and historical development.

Soon, on February 12, this first charged article elicited an equivalently strong response, also published in "Sightings", by Anthony Yu and Bruce Lincoln, two U. of C. professors.

They attack Marie's declaration that France is at war as an unfortunate use of hyperbole. They protest against the implication in Marie's essay that equates Islam with fascism and totalitarianism. They exempt Islam from being bound to European Enlightenment and Christian reformation standards of self-criticism. They rightly state that something has gone badly amiss when those who have the full protection of citizenship (cartoonists) use their liberté to mock those who are oppressed (Muslims in France).

Concluding, Lincoln and Yu properly challenge France to extend égalité and fraternité to immigrants.

Just a few days later, Professor Matthew Kapstein (Brown University; visiting at U. of C.) provided a second response to Prof. Marie. Citing a fourth French value, mixité, he proposed that it must be properly extended to all in France. (I'm not sure that mixité has the same historical value as the other three. Mixité may be more descriptive than normative.) 

Kapstein's primary concern is that Jewish populations in France are now under the gun (literally) of radical Islamicists. Ideologically motivated murderers must be identified and restrained, he asserts. In short, Kapstein points to the broader mixité of the French social order and to the obligation to protect the safety of all.

Finally, I'll cite "What does French national unity look like?" by Laura Reeck, Associate Professor of French at Allegheny College now on sabbatical in Paris. She claims that an exclusion of non-French residents and immigrants is implied in "The Declaration of the Rights of Man," and that France must move the rights forward in order to relate to the present social reality. She calls for "responsible freedom." 

As a social ethicist, I want to add some remarks of my own. Properly balanced and observed, France's three (or four, with mixité mixed in) main social values would create the world's dream society. Is such an utopia possible? Reality raises some alarm bells. 

First, the economic reality. Demographics in Europe resemble a rickety inverted pyramid, with older persons in greater numbers at the top than younger persons at the bottom. There are two solutions: austerity and immigration. You can count voluntary austerity out: look at Greece. Thus, immigrants have arrived and will arrive, legally or not, from the east and south. Many will be Muslims. Can they be enabled to move upward in the economy to the benefit of the nation and the immigrants? If so, how?

Second, the drawing of national boundaries after World War I was botched in several ways, and the consequences are felt in full force today. Sunnis, Shi'ites, Arabs, Kurds and all other population groups in the Near East are fighting for turf to call home. 

France and European nations need to address the most complicated issue of all: the formation of new national boundaries, reflecting the underlying realities of populations. To ignore this reality is to create refugee populations. Boundary shifts and refugee populations are being created now, before our eyes.

Finally, let me add a riff on the term "responsible freedom." Freedom is a human right, and one to be balanced with respect for the neighbor. I cannot understand how creating insulting cartoons that bring serious risk of harm to others and oneself can be understood as responsible. Writing this in no way condones the Charlie Hebdo murders. It simply applies a maxim uttered by a German: Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law. 

Thank you for reading and, if you wish, for your comment.


At February 20, 2015 at 5:30 PM , Blogger eddiegeneh said...

I believe your riff about responsible freedom is right on. Would that other deep thinkers about Islam in France and other quarters could be honest about the boundries of freedom of speech. Being honest about this is understandably hard for some because I don't believe freedom of speech is valued outside the free world. Ed H.

At February 20, 2015 at 5:33 PM , Blogger eddiegeneh said...

I believe your riff on responsible freedom is right on. Would that other deep thinkers about Islam in France and other quarters could be honest about freedom of speech, which is understandably difficult for some who cannot live and worship in the free world. Ed H.


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