Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Jim Wolfreys on Islamophobia and the failings of the French Left

From Socialist Worker

Islamophobic legislation acts as a substitute for measures which the government has been unable to implement and deflects attention from its own shortcomings. Why, then, is the rest of the left not exposing government racism? Where are the demonstrations in defence of France’s Muslim community? Why, in a country that has seen social movements on an unparalleled scale over the past decade and a half, has the left failed to oppose Islamophobia?

Part of the answer lies with the hold of the Republican tradition of secularism over the French left. In the late 19th century this took the form of anti-clericalism, a powerful tool against the influence of the monarchist Catholic church. But it was also, as the socialist Paul Lafargue argued, a way of getting workers “to eat priests rather than eat capitalists”.

This opened up a space for Republican nationalism to root itself in the Socialist and Communist traditions. In the 1980s, once the Socialist Party had abandoned its ambitious plans for social reform, it turned to Republican nationalism as a substitute. It invoked “Republican values” as an alternative to the rise of Le Pen. This in turn disarmed the left when Muslims were attacked during successive headscarf affairs from the late 1980s. Eventually the hijab was banned from schools in 2004.

Once a weapon against the wealth and privilege of the Catholic church, Republican secularism has become a means of scapegoating France’s oppressed Muslim minority. The ban on full-face veils is based on a series of myths – that Muslim extremism is a greater problem than Islamophobia, or that women have more freedom when the state tells them what they can wear. These myths can be challenged, but this requires a concerted and unequivocal campaign that identifies Islamophobia, and not Islam, as the enemy.

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