Algerian novelist Kamel Daoud discusses French Approach to Islamism
The distinguished Algerian novelist, essayist and journalist, Kamel Daoud, has written in Le Monde (29 January 2021) an article under the title, “France has what it takes to shape the future of Islam”. He compares the situation in France favourably with that in Muslim-majority states. The former, he says, has shown a willingness to bring into the open key issues about a Muslim crisis of identity, and the challenges of dealing with domestic terrorism; he sees in Paris a government which is trying to come to terms with its colonial past. By contrast, in many Muslim-majority states he sees only the suppression of freedom of thought and expression. According to Daoud, this opens up the possibility – through a mixture of negotiation and pressure – of creating a specifically French and republican Islam and providing a model for other countries facing the same challenge. He calls on French Muslim leaders to give priority to the human not the divine; to support freedom of conscience; and to show that it is possible to live one’s faith without impinging on the lives, or rights, of others.
Daoud argues that the current Charter of Principles proposed by the French government – which asks Muslim groups to reject political Islam and embrace secular values – is certainly open to legitimate criticism. But he sees the process as at least making clear who stands with, and who stands against, the Republic. And he believes that it offers hope to Muslims who want a more liberal dispensation for their own countries and an end to fantasies of reconquest.
Daoud predicts that those obsessed with decolonisation will continue to attack this initiative: for such people, he suggests, everything can be decolonised except Islam. Others will allege Islamophobia or insult those who seek change as collaborators or native informants. But Daoud believes that this discourse – often supported by external sponsors of French Muslims in order the distract attention from their own failings – needs to be challenged, not least because it suggests that Muslims are not and never can be specifically French. Islam, asserts Daoud, needs to be liberated from those who seek to exploit it for their own malign purposes; and in the process it will become clear that Islam can be at home as much in the Global North as in the Global South.