After Charlie Hebdo, France and the West have to implement a “positive secularism”
It should be noted that for the pope the goal of freedom of expression is the common good. This goes for freedom itself. Thus, freedom is not an end in itself. As John Paul II put it, “Freedom without truth is a mortal vertigo.” Of course, Pope Francis also strongly reiterated that “killing in the name of God” was an “aberration.”
One may wonder whether the tragedy that was played out at Charlie Hebdo and in the following days is not the result of a “clash of civilizations” or, in this case, a clash of two cultures, one that is religious and rigid, and the other that is “post-religious”, but one that is just as intolerant, and considers that religions are the “residue” of a “religious age,” according to the inherited positivist categories of the “Enlightenment” as defined by Auguste Comte.
Despite the huge demonstration on 11 January, despite the absolute freedom of expression that it sought to defend, France seems destined to revise its model of secularism, and adjust first of all to a significant demographic shift: Muslims now represent around 10 per cent of its population.
France, which had already lost its status as “eldest daughter of the Church”, is now a multi-religious society, and the French state has to manage this diversity differently from the way it has done so far. In France’s new society, insulting religion should no longer have the place it had in the post-68 nihilistic society.
Rules are needed in the area of religion, like they exist with respect to the Holocaust. In the same way that Holocaust “denial” is penalised, so should blasphemy against religions be penalised, with the proviso that the latter be clearly defined and distinguished from the exercise of critical reasoning.
Catholic France – which suffered humiliation after humiliation at the hands of Voltaire’s heirs but is starting to stir as the ‘Manif pour tous’ shows – can only welcome this. Like many other religiously heterogeneous countries in the world now, Lebanon’s culture of moderation and mediation should impose itself as a model, in the sense of “positive secularism” mentioned by Nicolas Sarkozy.
This is also what former lawmaker and essayist Samir Franjieh said. For him, Lebanon is the only country in the world where the words “conviviality pact” are enshrined in the Constitution; the only country in the world, where Muslims and Christians, Sunni and Shia, share power at a time when the massacres are increasing elsewhere.
According to the former lawmaker, the huge rally on 11 January could bear other fruits than those of a hopeless libertarian sensitivity. For him, the rally, which is comparable to the one that occurred in Lebanon on 14 March 2005, “will force the French to come out of their exaggerated individualism, and the breakdown of their relationship with others” that characterise their society.
For Mr Franjieh, “the basic lesson is not ‘Nobody touch my freedom!’ but ‘Let us oppose violence with a culture of living together’.” This way, a society based on ‘every man for himself can be replaced by a desire to live together,’ words the former lawmaker borrowed from Lebanon’s Ombudsman.
Religion makes a comeback in the West
Mr Franjieh is also critical of the culture of violence that is saturating Western social networks. “I play Sudoku,” he said, “and I am constantly interrupted by commercials that offer games online. All are massacre games. Well, someone in the Syrian Desert has told all these ultra-trendy young people into new technologies that they can transform this virtual violence into real violence!”
“Moreover,” Franjieh noted, “one is struck by the fact that there are as many, if not more, jihadists from Belgium than from Saudi Arabia! Somehow, this shows the failure of the system of integration of Muslims in the West. He is also surprised by the failure to organise a global alliance against the organisation of the Islamic State, which has several thousand fighters, whilst the Syrian regime continues to slaughter in silence.”
What better witness of the spiritual trepidation and religious revival observable in France today than Michel Houellebecq whose latest novel, “Submission”, is centred on the election of France’s first Muslim president in 2020.
“Secularism is now dead,” Houellebecq told Le Figaro magazine in a recent interview. “More and more people can no longer bear to live without God. Atheism is difficult to maintain (. . .). There is a more general suicide [. . .], especially spiritual, and if this view speaks to my narrator, it is because it evokes the actual impossibility of living without God.”
No one doubts that Houellebecq, who says he suffers from not having found God, is premonitory voice. France and the West are at a turning point in their history.