Religion and the state: unintended effects of anti-radicalization policies
In most European countries, violent radicalization is generally understood as a consequence of religious radicalization.
Consequently, the policies of fight or prevention of radicalism start from the principle that the key is to regulate the practice of Islam, in particular, either by promoting moderate or liberal interpretations of this one, or by pushing for secularization for reduce faith to the private sphere.
The question I would like to raise here is not so much whether such a policy stigmatizes Muslims, but rather whether such a policy is relevant.
First, from a purely statistical point of view, the link between religious and violent radicalization is very weak. There have been a few hundreds terrorists in Western Europe over the past 25 years, while we can conclude that the number of believers in “fundamentalist” Muslim schools of thought is in the hundreds of thousands if we consider the percentage of mosques defined as “Salafists”. “Or” Tablighi “by the authorities (in France less than 300 out of a total of more than 2000).
Moreover, if we look at the profile of real terrorists (people who have committed deadly attacks in Europe over the past 25 years), few of them have belonged to a fundamentalist faith community or regularly attended a mosque considered fundamentalist.
More precisely, if we take into consideration the terrorist attacks perpetrated since the Bataclan attack in 2015 in Paris, we are faced with lone wolves who have never been part of a fundamentalist network. This does not mean that these radicals have nothing to do with Islam: they consider themselves Muslims; they hope to become martyrs and go to paradise; they claim to avenge the sufferings of the Muslim Ummah. But they have hardly ever been trained in years in a fundamentalist theological school.
Nonetheless, in all countries involved in anti-radicalization efforts, the dominant doctrine has been to target religious practices and, as I will demonstrate, this is not limited to Islam.
Secularization vs liberalization
This policy was developed with two apparently opposing strategies. One promotes the reform of Islam or the adoption of liberal forms of religion, the other the extension of secularism. The apparent contradiction between the two approaches (the first recognizing that religion has its place in social life and public space, the other confining religion to the private sphere) leads to tensions between the so-called French model (secularism) and the so-called Anglo-Saxon model of multiculturalism. In fact, they both involve an overhaul of the traditional relationship between state and religion.
The first question is how to define “religious radicalization”? To do this, you need a concept of “religious moderation”; but what is a “moderate religion”? The dominant religions in Europe are “revealed” religions that believe in a transcendent, creator and legislator God. In this sense, the Abrahamic religions are not “moderate” because they believe in absolute truth and consider the word of God to be above human laws, even though the faithful citizen is supposed to obey and abide by the laws of God. State.
In any case, the debate shifts from “truth” to values, from “moderate” to “liberal”: religions are invited to accept the rights of women and LGBTIQ +, and this, of course, does not apply to all. ‘to Islam. Should this process of promoting liberal values go so far as to put pressure on the Catholic Church so that it has women priests, and ultra-Orthodox Jews so that they adopt co-education in the yeshiva?
Moreover, in addition to its objectives, the simple movement of States towards the promotion of the “good” religion upsets the tendency which characterizes the process of democratization since the 18th century: the separation of Church and State.
What remains of the mixture of the two are only symbolic vestiges (like the position of the British Queen at the head of the Anglican Church, for example). For the state, meddling in religion means ignoring the principle of separation and running up against another pillar of the rule of law: human rights. Freedom of religion is a human right and guarantees the believer that the state will not interfere with faith and theology, even though it may limit certain religious practices in the public space.
Far from ensuring religious freedom, any state intervention in the religious field will on the contrary contribute to the politicization of religious practice and eviscerate the autonomy of religion, leading to a new form of secularization of the state.
The French state intervenes
However, French policy does not hesitate to impose secularization on Islam. And this policy is popular in the country. But there is one side effect that is rarely noticed. Politics is more than an anti-Islam or Islamophobic position: it is an anti-religious position. And the Catholic Church is feeling this cold wind, especially at a time when the pedophilia scandal has undermined its prestige in society, with the trials of priests and cardinals widely covered by the media, and the Pope being forced to acknowledge the problem.
A series of laws, from the 2004 law prohibiting “religious symbols” in schools to the law against “separatism” approved by the French parliament in February, were adopted to fight against “Islamism” or “Islamist separatism”. Explicitly, they target religious practices at all levels: all religious symbols are banned in schools; any kind of home schooling (practiced by Catholics or progressive supporters of alternative education, but not by Muslims) is severely limited; and associations that receive public funding are expected to sign a “republican values charter” that prohibits any gender segregation activity or rejection of gay rights.
Limiting religious practices to undermine radicalization just doesn’t work. On the contrary, it contributes to a process of strict secularization of the religious space, primarily targeting ordinary and ordinary believers who are the best bulwark against any form of radicalization.