The Socio-political Context of Islamophobic Prejudices

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1. The paradigm of rationality. The first paradigm is one that regards religion as an intellectual archaism that cannot subsist in a 'modern' society led by rationality and its most obvious manifestation ; namely, social, scientific and technological progress.

The notion that religiosity is an archaic cultural trait is perfectly embodied in some segments of Muslim populations which profess a fundamentalist — literal as they put it — interpretation of sacred texts, whether in terms of its modes of social sanctions (physical mutilation), its scrupulous forms of piety, the inferior status of women, as well as the refusal of scientific discoveries and of intercultural contacts.

Nevertheless, to assimilate such Muslim obscurantism to 'Islam' is itself another form of obscurantism, since it is a fact that the majority of Muslims are not fundamentalists, as numerous studies conducted by the PEW Centre in the Muslim world as in North America have shown. In Canada, it is the least pious immigrants, unlike Asian immigrants in the 1990s, who display the strongest affiliation and religious practice (Indians, Chinese, Koreans). 11 Such Islamophobic obscurantism also ignores that it is no longer possible to [152] define modernity as a sure path to the emancipation and affirmation of rationality (Gray, 2012 ; Sen, 2003), 12 The debate on the flaws of this thesis began at the end of the 19 century and was continued after the First World War, and then after the Holocaust. Let us also bear in mind the contradictions of modernity, which brought about Human Rights along with policies for indigenous peoples, the Democratic contract along with colonialism, of citizen and non-citizen (women, the colonized, the salaried poor).

Rationality is not the exercise of an intellectual logic which aims to define and affirm opinions, choices and interests. It is in no way the fundamental trait of the human psyche and of the social sphere and is not always sufficient for conflict resolution among humans, nor to define a so-called common good. Rationality is the apprenticeship and exercise of detachment from such convictions and of doubt, which in turn leave room for both difference and disagreement.

2. The paradigm of the secularisation. This paradigm, which derives from the former, puts forward the necessity and ineluctability of the secularization of the civil society. It is an atheistic fundamentalism, founded on an evolutionist model of societies — the idea of a progressive and inevitable secularization of civil societies by means of human rationality, scientific progress and instruction. This scheme is directly put into question by the permanence of religious beliefs, and this challenge weakens the authority and legitimacy of intellectual elites, as well as of currents of opinion professing a scientist philosophy adverse to any position which is not established by controlled observation or by clear causality, thus condemning religious belief as nothing but refusal of science, intellectual alienation, social constraint and moral archaism.

3. The paradigm of the necessary opposition between the State and religion. According to this paradigm, religious thinking should be ignored, if not combated, by the modern State, given its so-called archaic nature. This position, which is professed by strong currents of opinion in the West, notably in historically Catholic societies, ignores the extremely diverse forms of the constitutional regimes that regulate the relations between the State and religion, in the West and elsewhere. The strict separation between Church and State, as in the case of France, is an uncommon form (United States, France, Mexico). The most widespread forms are : (a) the cooperation between the State and one or more religious institutions (Germany, Belgium, Netherlands) ; and (b) the granting of privileges, whether significant or limited, to one religion (Spain, Italy, Canada). The issue as regards these forms is then the extent of the public funding of religious instruction and of religious personnel.

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