Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

The Burqa, Sarkozy and the British Left.

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Marceau Pivert (1895 – 1958): Socialist Secularist.

In a speech yesterday French president Nicolas Sarkozy stated that, “France is a country where there is no place for the burqa, where there is no place for the subservience of women,” he said in a speech on French national identity. (More here – in English)

Sarkozy is trying to hold a national discussion about what it is to be French. In terms of the nation. Central to it, he argues, is a conception of republican secularism (or more exactly Laïcité). Behind this is an attempt to obscure issues which divide France, his own free-market politics to begin with. Thus, most of the French left rejects the terms of Sarkozy’s ‘debate’.  However the stress on secularism has had an echo. This morning on French radio the Communist Mayor of the town where he made this speech welcomed the assertion of republican liberty through secularism

This is not a  surprise, Much of the French left recognises the need for a republic free of religious influence. It splits people on quasi-ethnic grounds. It introduces a powerful source of obscurantism into public life. Laïcité is where they draw the line against, notably, Islamism. Not that socialists of any stripe are uncritical of the French state: it is rent with inequalities and favours religious organisations indirectly by subsidies and recognition. It has a history of imperial rule, and neglect of the rights of the colonised. Still, unlike in Britain, the direct influence of religious politics is considered anathema. French leftists can draw on an atheist and anti-clerical tradition in the radical Enlightement that opposed slavery and imperial expansion (Diderot, Condorcet). The French Marxist left also has a strong secularist background. In the 1930s the non-Communist hard-left was particularly marked by this – Marceau Pivert  to the fore (here, French, and English, here).

Here is what part of that Left says. In mid-October the Parti de Gauche participated in a big Paris demonstration for women’s rights. The PG attacks Catholic attempts to restrict abortion rights, and all forms of religious oppression. This is their statement on the veil and the burqa (more Here).

Le développement de l’islam radical contribue à la multiplication du port du voile et du voile intégral ; le port de la burqa est l’illustration emblématique d’une régression des droits et de la dignité des femmes, il est le symbole de la soumission des femmes, qui affecte la notion même de personne comme membre de l’association politique.

The development of radical Islam has contributed to an increase in veil, and total-veil display; wearing the burqa is the emblematic sign of a regression in the area of women’s rights and dignity. It is the symbol of women’s submission, which affects the very notion of a person as a part of political life.

This seems a fair starting point.

Why don’t we in Britain on the left  work from these premises on this issue? We have our own anti-clerical Enlightenment figures. Think of Tom Paine. To begin with.


Written by Andrew Coates

November 13, 2009 at 10:58 am

One Response

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  1. […] In the tradition of Marceau Pivert and Tom Paine: Andrew Coates on laïcité. […]

    Trot notes « Poumista

    November 16, 2009 at 3:10 pm

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