Ambassador Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, Chairman of our Advisory Board, publishes here in French, English and Arabic the point of view of our Global Diwan on current misunderstandings about terrorism on our national ground to position, clarify and ease the necessary multilateral dialogue we will have to promote and intensify.
Connecting East and West is not only our motto but the purpose of The Global Diwan ! Our organisation has a European basis, but France is our dearest homeland and we have to make clear to others what our political values mean.
France was recently struck by a new act of terrorism, when a history and geography teacher was beheaded in the street by a political refugee, a man France had taken in and who claimed to follow Islam.
This is a big jolt in a land of refuge. The Global Diwan cannot remain silent at a time when tempers are flaring and it is striving to build an agora for respectful conversations between different civilisations and sensibilities. In our globalised world, dialogue is the key to settling disagreements and disparities, and the key to the harmony that will foster peace and prosperity for all peoples.
This act of terrorism flies in the face of beliefs in every civilisation that holds a person’s life as sacred, and has been widely condemned. It is nonetheless a fact that every society around the world is being shaken by acts of violence. The causes that perpetrators claim to endorse can be political, religious, ideological or, in some cases, all three at once. But this attack is especially shrill in France: the beheading of this teacher is a strike against schools, against the sharing of knowledge and against every endeavour to educate young people.
France has been building itself around its national project for centuries. All the population groups that have become part of it have espoused this vision. The French Revolution sprang from the Enlightenment, philosophers and the Encyclopédie. It paved the way for a society grounded in Liberté from oppression and tyranny. As time went by, Liberty burgeoned into freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of the press and so forth. This France born in the Revolution was proclaimed indivisible. It cannot allow clusters of citizens to withdraw into community bubbles and flout common law. Then, to cement this unity throughout society, postrevolutionary France enshrined Égalité, meaning the principle that all citizens are equal before the law, and Fraternité as society’s bedrock.
Freedom of religion is a touchy topic in a country that stems from the Judeo-Christian tradition and has suffered long, gruelling wars of religion. The 1905 law on the Separation of the Churches and the State put an end to centuries of hostility between the temporal power and the Church’s power. This law separates public institutions and religious organisations. It thus establishes the principle of laïcité, or secularism, an original construction unique to France. It safeguards freedom of thought and sanctifies equality before the law for all, regardless of belief or persuasion. It’s important to point out that this shift occurred amid intense political tension, that it eased friction between society and religious circles at the time, and that ill feelings between them have never resurged since.
Religion is back on the table today. For centuries now, French generation after French generation has shown interest, admiration and respect for Islam’s civilisations and cultures, for its scholars, philosophers and artists, and for its thought and vision of humankind and the world. For decades now, France has been taking in generation after generation of Muslims from various backgrounds, in step with historic events, economic development and the resulting mobility of people. These millions of Muslims are French citizens today. They do France proud. They stand among the Italians, Spaniards, Poles, Portuguese, Armenians, Central European Jews and others who have embraced the values that France stands for and in doing so found a place where they belong. They all brought their dignity, their intelligence, their work. They helped to build the nation’s wealth. Their allegiance as fully-fledged citizens is exemplary. Many of our Muslim fellow countrymen and countrywomen are giving their best, worthily following in the footsteps of their parents or grandparents who shed their blood for France in the World Wars.
France, however, doesn’t conflate Islamist political terrorism and Muslim believers’ religious practices. Its longstanding conversations with Muslims from around the world keep it at a safe distance from the trap that some are trying to lay for it.
In the situation we are facing today, it is essential to bring together France’s community as a whole. And to protect every man and woman in the country from the rifts that can surface in society because of the diversity that has also made it so strong. Public authorities have a duty to provide this protection, and are working tirelessly to do so. Every country is involved in the fight against terrorism, and tighter and trusting cooperation will make it possible to hunt it down and eradicate it. Terrorism is everyone’s enemy. We all need to see that clearly. And France must be unequivocal about the part it plays in this struggle.
France, however, doesn’t conflate Islamist political terrorism and Muslim believers’ religious practices. Its longstanding conversations with Muslims from around the world keep it at a safe distance from the trap that some are trying to lay for it. Muslim believers’ religious practices. Its longstanding conversations with Muslims from around the world keep it at a safe distance from the trap that some are trying to lay for it. France wants all its citizens to have a place at the same table, to follow the same rules and adhere to the same national project, without renouncing what connects each of us to where we come from. That is the whole point of what we call laïcité. This concept is sorely misconstrued, even in France. This form of secularism actually safeguards freedom of thought and freedom to practise one’s religion. But there is still a lot of disagreement and misapprehension. There is still a lot of work to do before we all find our rightful place as citizens. In our interlinked world where the only way to build the future is together, The Global Diwan is also aiming to encourage this conversation, which is more necessary now than ever.
Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, Ambassador of France