On Cultural Differences

For Monday’s class, I read From a Community of Believers to an Islam of the Heart: “Conspicuous” Symbols, Muslim Practices, and the Privatization of Religion in France by Caitlin Killian. The read was fascinating, as I have been studying French for four years and the political and religious climate has been a topic of few discussions. Historically, France has been a country of revolution; citizens do not often appreciate all-powerful rulers, both on this Earth and in Spirit. France was the heart of the Enlightenment. Salons gathered brilliant philosophical minds from all over to discuss the deepest secrets of the universe. With this history in mind, it makes perfect sense why the French are so opposed to the public display of religion.  However, it is important to not judge the decision of the French through an American lense.

In America, the banning of religious symbolism would seem a ridiculous notion. We view religious freedom as the government staying out of religion. However, in France, the view is different. Freedom of religion is closer aligned to freedom from religion.  By banning religious symbolism, the French maintain a neutral French identity where no one is being encroached upon by religion. Keeping in mind France’s catholic past, this makes perfect sense. The Catholic Church was at a time very corrupt and fueled by financial gain. This did not sit well with French citizens. To avoid Church rule in the future, the french people culturally decided to keep religion in the private sphere and out of the public sphere. Thus, to have a French cultural identity, one should keep religion in that private sphere. This helps an American to understand why half of the Muslim women interviewed agreed with the Hijab ban. They agree that to have a French cultural identity, which was more important to them that having a Muslim identity, that sacrifice had to be made.

This ban would seem awful through an American lense, but it is important to understand the culture in which this was happening.