The recent refocus on the immigration issue here in the United States displays how segments in our society view newcomers and their place in our society. France, likewise, has been dealing with issues of immigration. Whereas the influx of Mexican immigrants has concerned Americans, the French have been dealing with the influx of various Muslim groups for quite a while now. Lately, the French have been concerned with the public religious practices of the Muslim subculture, which seem to threaten the country’s persistent emphasis on secularism and egalitarianism.
At issue is competing values of liberty and equality. The Muslims wearing the religious symbols banned in public schools in the country several years ago and those wearing the veils that may be soon be banned if French President Sarkozy has his way see such religious garb as an expression of their individual religious liberty. Those French opposed to that expression view the garb as symbolic of a Muslim counter-culture hostile to equality for women.
[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=france+muslims&iid=3620536″ src=”2/1/b/2/Muslims_Rally_Against_e566.jpg?adImageId=12692764&imageId=3620536″ width=”250″ height=”152″ /]The French reaction to this supposed societal dilemma exemplifies the focus their society has had on equality. Should the same issue become prominent in the U.S., one would imagine that the liberty of the Muslim women would win out. Individual religious expression in this country has more often than not trumped any societal claims to forced equality.
At the heart of that difference in societal reactions is the emphasis placed on such often competing social values. The staunch egalitarians in France find it hard to allow such voluntary expression symbolizing inequality to exist; the libertarians in the U.S. would find it hard to justify the government forcing individuals to adhere the majority’s vision of equality.
What the French fail to realize — that every individual has the equal right to conscience — is what will further exacerbate their society’s cultural clash with its burgeoning Muslim minority. Noting such a predicament, a TIME magazine article recently quoted a French-Muslim affairs expert observing the following:
There’s a real sentiment that Islam in France is now officially under suspicion–or attack–and this ban will drive some angry and brooding Muslims toward the very extremist cults forcing women under veils.
That sort of clash is more often avoided in multi-cultural societies where the individual and their free will are more protected than any majority’s view of how everyone should be forced to be equal. In the end, the more libertarian society will be more apt to avoid conflict in such areas of religion and secularism, whereas the more egalitarian society will continue to run into a rather large and inconvenient speed bump on its road to an egalitarian utopia: the individual and their God-given right to free will.