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This report, written in partnership with the London Office of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, details the causes of and responses to Islamophobia in France, as well as lessons for the UK and wider Europe.


France has been making international headlines for years due to its strained relationship with its Muslim population.

Across the political spectrum, Muslims are constantly targeted by specific legislation and controversies surrounding their very presence, belief systems and dress codes, and are portrayed as a triple threat: against national security (»They are potential terrorists«), the national economy (»They are taking our jobs and welfare benefits«) and national identity

(»They are taking over our country«). Laïcitéhas been used to specifically target Muslims, despite its conception as a constitutional principle granting religious freedom for individuals and ensuring a religiously neutral state.

Given the deep influence of the Catholic Church in France, the principle of state religious neutrality is a direct legacy of the French Revolution. It took nearly two centuries forlaïcitéto be passed into law and become the norm. However,laïcitéhas in recent years become an ideological tool to target the visibility of Muslims in public. Even hardcore conservatives and the far right have used the term, despite rejecting it in the name of "upholding Christian values".

How has this become possible and what role has the left played in allowing this weaponisation oflaïcité?

This paper explores howlaïcitéwas enshrined in the French Constitution and how its redefinition has legitimised Islamophobia. In light of the far right’s historic gains under Emmanuel Macron, it discusses how the right and the left converged around a ›new‹laïcité, sharing the common belief that Muslims, as in the colonial era, must not be visible in the public domain, let alone organise and speak publicly.

It also explains the difference between the historical constitutionallaïcité, and the new, more ideological one designed to crack down on Muslims. The ambiguities of the French left will be addressed in light of the landmark controversies that have divided it. Although the NUPES alliance made some gains during the legislative elections, the alliance is fragile, given the track records of the Socialist, Communist and La France Insoumise parties on racism. In conclusion, a series of policy recommendations are made for governments, decision-makers within parties and civil society organisations.


Laïcitéis hailed as one of France’s cornerstone values. Officially, it is about the separation of church and state. In practice, it means that religion cannot legislate and the state cannot meddle in religious affairs. Historically, laïcitéwas introduced to keep the influence of the Catholic Church away from politics and government affairs.

Given France’s history of monarchical absolutism backed by the Catholic Church, the wars of religion between Protestants and Catholics (culminating with the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre), the French Revolution brought with it the idea of tolerance and freedom, as expressed in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen: "No one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views, provided their manifestatio does not disturb the public order established by law".

The secularisation of French society accelerated after the fall of the monarchy, openly challenging the influence of the Catholic Church. The Catholic establishment became the prime opponent to French revolutionary forces and the only institution to resist revolutionary reforms, feeding a deeply rooted anti-clerical sentiment.

By 1792, the Paris Revolutionary Commune had prohibited religious attire in public and public religious gatherings, and had seized Church property. Some communes took over administrative duties once filled by religious clerks, while others distanced themselves from Christian references by changing their names and closing down churches, with the country’s main churches turned into ›Temples of Reason‹.Catholics were persecuted as enemies within, accused of conspiring with the Austrians during the French Revolutionary Wars.

This anti-Catholic fever led to more antireligious measures and massacres. In France, where the Catholic Church was omnipresent in people’s daily affairs for centuries, these decisions cannot be minimised READ THE FULL PAPER HERE

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