This week, I read the jigsaw article From Community to Heart by Caitlin Killian. She conducted interviews with first- and second-generation French Muslims from North Africa. She observed the differences in attitudes regarding the secularization in France. Not only is religion expected to be private, but religious symbols, including the wearing of the headscarf, were banned from public institutions in 2003. A majority of those interviewed accommodated to expected private practice in France, even if they did not agree with the ban. They have adapted their religion in order to make it more compatible with their secular society.
Killian mentions the terms “positive” versus “negative secularism”. She suggests these terms as a way of explaining the difference between secularization, or separation of church and state, in the United States and France. While the United States government, according to the Constitution, cannot favor any specific religion and must allow freedom of religious expression, the French government has banned public religious expression altogether. In this way, French society has adopted positive secularism, while American society has adopted negative secularism.
Despite the ban on religious symbolism in the public sphere, the French culture is still centered around Catholicism, and the Christian calendar is observed. Younger, second-generation Muslims have taken notice of this and view it as a sign of discrimination against their culture and religious expression. While the covering of the head is an important aspect of Muslim faith, wearing the cross is not essential to Christian belief. Therefor, not adorning a cross won’t make someone look any less of a Christian, while not wearing a headscarf may leave a Muslim woman vulnerable to accusations of not being a good Muslim. This has posed a dilemma for some French Muslims- should they be a good French citizen at the expense of their religious identity, or should they be a good Muslim with the risk of being shunned by the larger society?