Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Assimilation or alienation?

Sabria S. Jawhar

Saudi Gazette
THERE once was a time in the not so distance past that democracy meant something. Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. Freedom of expression. Freedom of religion.

The United States was a beacon for these ideals and it’s no small wonder that through the generations Saudis eagerly sought to study there. Most European nations also have their own version of democracy.

In virtually every aspect, the United Kingdom, France and Germany all follow the same democratic principles. Western history has taught us that the American’s declaration of independence in 1776 set the stage for the French revolution, which brought democracy to their country.But somewhere along the line after 9/11 democracy became a fist to bludgeon those who don’t conform.

Now there is liberty (but not as much as it was once enjoyed). There is freedom of expression (but with consequences like losing one’s job or being jailed for supporting unpopular causes). And there is freedom of religion (but only for some people).

While America has done enough to set back the cause for democracy a good half century, France has gone about willfully, if not gleefully, trampling all that is democratic.France recently denied citizenship to a Muslim Moroccan woman because of her religious beliefs.

Apparently her conservative practice of Islam clashes with “the essential values of the French community.”Faiza Mabchour is 32-years-old and has three children. She is married to a French national, speaks French and has been living in the country for eight years.

She also wears the abaya and the veil. She is the first person to be denied the right to French citizenship based on her religious and cultural background.How does this mother of three clash with the values of the French?According to government officials, who had interviewed Mabchour for citizenship, she lives in a state of “total submission” to her husband, father and brother-in-law.

She wears her abaya and veil in public.Here’s what French government representative Emmanuelle Prada-Bordenave said about Mabchour: “From her own declarations she lives an almost reclusive life, cut off from French society. She has no idea of secularism or the right to vote.

She lives in total submission to the men in her family. She appears to find that normal.”Normal?Excuse me. But who is Prada-Bordenave to say what is normal? Normal by Western standards? Must Mabchour completely conform in every respect to France’s cultural values to be a French citizen? Speaking French alone is a sign of assimilation into French society.

Mabchour even has a male gynecologist, a fact that most Muslim women would find extremely difficult to face. That is considerable assimilation.I don’t know whether Mabchour is submissive. Perhaps by her own standards she has a fair and equitable marriage. I frankly think that is her business.

What comes to my mind is whether the French interviewing citizenship candidates apply their so-called submissive standards to all. Or is it just a Muslim woman behind a veil.The French government picks and chooses what is normal and what is submissive. They apply different standards to different religions and cultures.

I wonder whether Orthodox Jews, Mormons and Evangelical Christians are scrutinized under the same rules.Immigration issues are hot-button topics in Western European. There is fear among conservatives of the alleged Islamification of Europe.

The building of mosques, wearing the hijab in public buildings and setting aside time for prayer in the workplace have built up considerable anti-Muslim sentiment among conservative politicians.France tries to hide behind false front of legitimacy of carrying out investigations into a citizenship candidate’s assimilation into society by using arbitrary rules of what is “normal” and “submissive” behavior.

What the French want is to jam square pegs into round holes.It’s not preserving French society. It’s the demand to conform. Because if one doesn’t conform to the French interpretation of what is normal, then that heavy fist of democracy will come crashing down on those who are different.


Bassem said...

I actually agree with the French government regarding this matter. They have the right to deny citizenship to whomever they want or see unfit.
France wants conformity. In its opinion, that is the best way to insure smooth running of the society and safety of the majority.

Honestly, this woman seems out of touch with the French reality and if she wants to practice Islam that way then she can leave France and go to whichever country that gives her that right. We shouldn't be dictating others how to run their system when we clearly have extreme faults in our own.

Anonymous said...

I read your blog frequently. I have always been curious about your culture. I wanted to tell you this evening here in the states I viewed on The Travel Channel about Jeddah. I was so excited, I saw Saudi culture such as what you write about. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Do you watch Anthony Bourdain / No Reservations? Please let me know if you have heard of this show?


Ali said...

Dear Sabria,

I often read your articles with delictment and praise your sense of balance and equity that emerge from them. However your last article regarding the democracy and taking for example the recent denial of the French citizenship to a Muslim Moroccan woman deserve a few comments. The decision to refuse the French citizenship was not that of the French government as you stated but rather that of the “Conseil d’Etat”, the supreme administrative court in France. Indeed, as France is a true democracy, there is a separation of powers between, the judicial, the administrative and the executive bodies. Judges in France are independent from the executive body, that is the government. In many cases, the “Conseil d’Etat” sanctions and imposes penalties on the government. The “Conseil d’Etat” does not pass or enact laws as it is the role of the two chambers forming the Parliament but says how to interpret the law. The acquisition of the French citizenship is not a matter of religious beliefs, France just like Turkey, a country where the population is mostly Muslim, is a clerical State. Each country has its own history and values that may differ from other countries, that’s a fact one cannot contest and that must be accepted. Each county cannot be denied the rights to set its own rules, including rules leading to the acquisition of the citizenship. The acquisition of a citizenship must not be based on the convenience that it may bring to the applicant but rather on the will to embrace the values of the country the citizenship is applied for. The same decision would certainly be applied to other believers of other religions. That decision what not motivated by the religion of that woman but on her refusal to share the common values of people living in France and not only French people. Thousands of Muslims are becoming French citizen each year. Wearing the hijab in public places is not forbidden in France despite what many people are wrongfully thinking. You may probably have noticed that the French government has three very popular Muslim Ministers of ethnic and foreign background different from the majority of French people and which happen to be women, including the Justice Minister. Also, there are many mosques in France and more are being built, just like other praying places for other religions. That reality cannot always be found in some countries for different reasons which must also be respected because the reality finds its roots in the particularities of those countries. Finally, going back to Mabchour case, it happens that she was not wearing the hijab or the abaya when she lived in Morocco, her new habit could have been suggested by her husband who is said to be radical in its practice of its religion, but this is their own respectful standards of living and ways of practicing their religion. I hope that Mrs Mabchour will be living happily in France, happiness can also be found through many ways not only through the acquisition of a new citizenship, as being citizen of a country must before all symbolizes the choice of sharing the values of that country, regardless if those values are viewed as good or bad by others, as you may agree with me, the weighing of values if a matter of angle.

I apologize for the length of my comments and should you wish to publish it but need to make some cuts for practical obvious reasons, please contact me first with your suggestions and I will get back to you to work it out. In the event, my comments cannot be inserted in your nice newspaper, I would be delighted and honoured to have the opportunity to get your feed back on it. Once again, thank you for the quality of your articles and thank you for Saudi Gazette to allow readers to voice their views on them.

jonie dakotchei said...

Dear maam,

im very happy to know that you're also concern about what happened.thank you very very much maam.know this is my first time to email a media personality like you.Even i am not saudi citizen but im very proud having woman like you with strong determination and courage to combat this kind of event.As what ive said maam i am not expecting more on what i have informed you on my email.

Please do forgive me for sharing your time.Blessed you and your whole family and more power to you again.GOD takes care of YOU always maam

Anonymous said...