American Secularism offers lesson to France

Since the riots in France broke out this fall, many have analyzed the root causes of the rage within the “French” Muslim community. It would be a grave mistake for us to avoid the greatest lesson of the riots: This disaffection, although caused partly by immigration, unemployment and segregation, really is about the spiritual character of a nation. Many have been quick to compare America’s challenges with its own Muslim population to Europe’s, but there is a central difference. America is a place where all spirituals paths are supported. It is a country where God is freely talked about in its founding documents. This gives great support to all faiths, especially those in the minority. It gives all people of faith a sense that they belong here. This language reaffirming man’s spiritual nature is what is sorely missing in Europe. If one takes away that foundation, one is left with a cold secularism that, in turn, becomes the most attractive breeding ground for religious fanatics. In that anti-religious environment, where is the truly devotional to turn? On one side there is the “God is dead” people, and on the other is the “Your God is dead” people. To someone who simply is trying to practice his faith, this is a toxic environment indeed. That brings us to the real tragedy of Europe. Never before in man’s history has mostly an entire continent thrown off its religious traditions and devotional practices as Europe has. This is obvious to any tourist who visits there. They will find its churches cold and, above all, empty. Europeans proudly think of themselves as living in a post-Christian era and, because of that central fact, they have lost the true language to talk with their restive Muslim population. On the other side, the Islamists dream of creating a new global order that will rise over the ruins of a godless Western world. They want to create a new Caliphate, and now Europe is clearly in their sights. The de-Christianization of Europe has left it wide open for invasion by an ideology like Islamism that promises the whole package of God, faith, community and nation. This fanatical sect of Islam can only take hold in an environment where despair and godlessness prevails. In this war against Islamo-fascism, France has been a consistent example of what not to do. First was to create a society that is hostile to religion. Second was to invite millions of immigrants whose primary identity was that of their religion. Third was to segregate them in bleak, jobless ghettos. Fourth was to react to this discontent with indiscriminate hard-line measures such as the one that has outlawed religious head coverings (whether they be scarves, turbans, yarmulkes or the wearing of crosses) in schools and government. These laws banning “conspicuous” symbols of faith are France’s latest version of the Maginot Line. They have given the country the illusory sense of security while actually strengthening the hand of the Islamists. To the writers of this piece, a Muslim and a Sikh, the error of the French Laicite policies could not be more obvious. In its broad-brush attempt to dampen religious fanaticism, it has alienated people of faith, who see this ruling as unfair and coercive. We once again are thankful to be citizens in our nation where public displays of faith, whether in prayer, headdress, assembly or place of worship, are seen as strengthening not weakening the nation. The real answer to the Islamists lies in the foundations of this country, which speak about God, liberty and equality for all. In essence, America as an idea is the real antidote to the ideology of Islamism. This idea combines two counterbalancing concepts: the importance of religious liberty and the importance of separation of church and state. American secularism is successful because it allows for the individual to freely choose his faith in a veritable “free market” of religions. Only in this environment can a relationship with God truly be free of coercion. Judaism and Christianity have learned this in their history of reform. Muslims can only learn this if we rely on the success of the American concept of religious liberty. In summation, the Muslims of Europe can’t be bought off, even if the French treasury was an overflowing surplus of wealth. Like all other human beings, what they really want is to be understood and respected. And God is the coin of the realm with them. Europe has lost the language to talk to people of faith. It has lost that experience. Both sides now can only look at each other as some sort of strange mutant creatures with no commonality among themselves. When Christian Europe deserted it principles, its practices and its pieties, it created a vacuum that increasingly has been filled by a version of Islam that wants to reclaim its past glories by controlling Europe. M. Zuhdi Jasser is chairman of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy based in Phoenix and can be reached at Soul Singh Khalsa is a Sikh minister and novelist in Phoenix and can be reached at soulkhalsa This column originally appeared in the Arizona Republic on November 28, 2005 at this link.