The lingering issue of colonialism that still shapes France

Culture et idées

More than all other the former European imperial powers, France continues to be profoundly shaped by the issue of colonialism, which both determines its relations with the world and fashions how it sees itself. In this article written for the latest issue of the 'Revue du crieur', Mediapart's publishing editor Edwy Plenel looks at France's continuing relationship with its colonial past, a subject often suppressed by its political elites on both the Right and Left. He argues that the country's continuing reluctance to confront its imperial history has made it blind to its multiculturalism and diversity and has encouraged the renaissance of neo-fascism.

A year after Samuel Paty's murder, teachers in France give their verdict on the current classroom mood

France — Report

On October 16th 2020 history and geography teacher Samuel Paty was murdered near his school in the north-west suburbs of Paris where he had previously shown pupils caricatures of Muhammad as part of a lesson. A year later, Mediapart visited a similar-sized community at Alès in southern France to speak to teachers there about life in the classroom following a brutal killing that shocked the nation. They told Mediapart about their hopes, their fears and their complicated relations with pupils who they say are being drip fed with 'fake news'. Some also expressed their anger about an education system they consider to be too passive in the face of the current situation. Prisca Borrel reports.

Macron outlines new law to prevent Islamic 'separatism' in France

France — Link

In keynote speech, French president said local officials will get extra powers to fight radicalism and social problems will be tackled.

French government embroiled in row over faith-based election candidate lists

France — Analysis

Right-wing politicians want religion-based election candidates lists to be banned in France. This comes after a group calling itself the Union of French Muslim Democrats stood in this year's European elections, in which it won just 0.13% of the popular vote. Some members of the government are said to be tempted by the idea of a ban, but President Emmanuel Macron has rejected this approach. Instead, Ellen Salvi reports, he is looking at other possible avenues, including extending the religious neutrality that civil servants have to observe to elected representatives.

Outrage at call for Muslim mother to remove headscarf at French council meeting


At a regional council meeting in Burgundy on Friday, a councillor from France's far-right Rassemblement National party (formerly the Front National) demanded that a woman in the public gallery should remove her headscarf or leave. She was accompanying a visiting group of primary school children, which included her son who burst into tears over the humiliation of his mother. A photo of the incident immediately caused outrage as it circulated on social media, and has since developed into a major political controversy, dividing members of government and highlighting the blurring of the boundaries of France’s secular rules and their misuse as a weapon for Islamophobia.

When France's laws on secularism don't apply to all


The French constitution sets out that "France is an indivisible, secular, democratic and social Republic”, and the country’s strict laws upholding the secular nature of the state and its institutions, including a ban on the wearing of religious dress and symbols in state educational establishments or by public employees, have been at the centre of tensions with members of the Muslim community. But a recent incident involving members of the council of the south-west city of Toulouse demonstrate that for some politicians, the rules of secularity are bendable according to one’s religion. Emmanuel Riondé reports from Toulouse.  

Macron slammed over overtures to France's Catholic Church

France — Link

In an unprecedented speech to Catholic bishops this week in Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron said 'We share in a confused way that relations between the Church and State have been damaged and it is up to you, as much as us, to repair them', prompting a political uproar and accusations that he undermined the secular pillar of France's constitution.

French politicians up defences against 'Anglo-Saxon multiculturalism'

International — Link

The perceived threat of the 'Anglo-Saxon model' is the upcome of distinct communities based on ethnic identity, while France, said PM Manuel Valls, 'does not see itself as a juxtaposition of communities, each with their autonomous path'.

Poll finds nearly 30 percent of French Muslims reject secular laws

France — Link

The Ifop study found 29 percent of those polled said sharia legal and moral code was more important than secular France's laws, while 60 percent wanted to see headscarf ban on girl students lifted. 

French government plans new presentation of secularism in schools

France — Link

French education minister says Muslim pupils must be made aware that 'secularism is not something against them, it protects them'.

Defining the troubled notion of secularism in France

France — Report

Jean-Louis Bianco is head of France’s Secularism Monitoring Centre, a public body that advises public institutions, local authorities and the private sector, among others, on the country’s laws on secularity and their application. Amid an increasingly tense political debate over multiculturalism in France, the legislation has rarely been so fiercely championed - but also brought into question. To address the misunderstandings by both camps, Bianco travels France each week to discuss the principle and the detail of the law with various sections of the population. Mathieu Magnaudeix followed him on one such trip to a small town in north-east France.

In France, post-Charlie Hebdo debate hits new level of vitriol

France — Link

Many members of France's intelligentsia and political class are now at each other’s throats in aftermath of January's terror attacks.

France's 'spirit of January 11' or the ghost of a unity that passed

France — Opinion

Following the January 2015 terror attacks in and around Paris which left 20 people dead, including the three gunmen, there were huge marches held across France to express public outrage over the events. On Sunday January 11th, an estimated four million people took to the streets of the country’s major towns and cities, with an estimated two million in Paris alone. The French government, and in particular Prime Minister Manuel Valls, has since coined the phrase ‘the spirit of January 11’, using it repeatedly as a rallying call for national unity, notably as it drove through its recent law to introduce mass surveillance powers for the security services. But the recurrent references to what was a remarkable day have now turned sour, amid a heightening debate, as critics on the Right and Left accuse the government of attempting to invent a false conception for cynical political gain. One of them is Christian Salmon, a writer and researcher with the Paris-based Centre for Research in the Arts and Language. In this opinion article he argues that the ‘spirit of January 11’ has “evolved into a confusing scrum, a macabre dance with a cortege of grimacing masks, heroic posturing and denunciations”.

Confusion reigns over government vision of a secular France

France — Analysis

Just like the Left in general, and indeed many political parties in France, the government is divided over the key issue of secularism and its precise scope in French society. An example of this confusion is the forthcoming Parliamentary bill on religious neutrality in privately-run crèches which will be considered by the National Assembly on May 13th. President François Hollande and most of his government are opposed to the measure, even if it appears prime minister Manuel Valls might be more favourable. Yet after a backroom deal with political allies, MPs from the ruling Socialist Party appear committed to voting through the measure despite their own divergent views on the subject. As Lénaïg Bredoux reports, the resulting lack of clarity is a prime example of François Hollande's style of government.

The search for 'secularism' in France's inner cities

France — Report

In its response to the terror attacks in Paris in January the French government emphasised the importance of schools and the central role of secularism in fighting intolerance and extremism. Mediapart recently visited schools in the north of the French city of Amiens, an area which has recently seen riots and where the Moroccan-born education minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem herself grew up and was educated. Here the issue of secularism divides teachers, parents and local help groups alike. “I have the impression that, faced with this debate, everyone is a bit lost,” says one teacher. Mediapart's education correspondent Lucie Delaporte reports from the city.