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The Intersection of Laïcité and Islam:Exploring the Relationship between Political Secularism, Religion and GenderCritical Approaches to Diversity ClassThe controversial issue of religious expression in the country of France is not a newissue, especially in regards to headscarves worn by Muslim women. The clash of French politicalideals of laïcité and freedom of religious expression is a battle that has been ongoing since 1989.In 1989 three Muslim female students were suspended from their school in the French town ofCreil for refusing to remove their headscarves in school. This issue has caught the attention ofglobal news this past summer of 2016 when the French government banned women fromwearing the ‘burkini’ (swimwear designed for Muslim modesty standards) on public beaches(Bilefsky, 2016). This issue intersects across lines of religion, political agenda’s and gender in aunique way.This paper will critically analysis this issue through the use of the Riva Kastoryano article“French Secularism and Islam: France’s Headscarf Affair.” (2006). Finally the authors of thispaper will analyze and reflect upon this issue based on their individual perspectives as a femaleMuslim from Egypt and a female American secularist. It is through this analysis and reflectionthat this paper aims to provide clarity on lessons learned from this contentious issue in France ina wider framework of diversity and inclusion.
The French Republic’s policy of laïcité has met an opponent in Islam. This is due to thefact that Islam is a religious minority in France that requires public expression, mainlyheadscarves for females (Kastoryano, 2006). According to French political thinking the nation isbuilt on principles of nationalism and a political identity rather than ethnic or religious identity.This ideology was first presented by a lecture by Ernest Renan in 1882 and has recently made aresurgence in political rhetoric. This increase in French nationalism is seen as a direct effect ofincreased migration from North Africa to France; migrants that are largely a Muslim population.The French separation of religion and state has become increasingly contentious with thegrowing French Muslim population (Kastoryano, 2006). In 2003 Islam gained recognition as areligious institution through the establishment of the Conseil Français Du Culte Musulman(CFCM). This recognition was an important step for Islam in terms of equality in France, joiningother state recognized religions such as Catholicism and Judaism. This integration of Islam as aninstitution is an important step towards equity for French Muslims however, there are still majorissues regarding how individual religious expression can exist in a laïcité state. The modernreality of ever increasing multicultural societies demands that the French ideal of strictsecularism be evaluated for relevancy and usefulness.This is an intriguing issue from my perspective as a non-religious American female. Onone hand I can understand the ideal of nationalism that transcends boundaries of ethnicity and