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Education and Muslim Identity: The Case of France

Leslie J. Limage
Comparative Education
Vol. 36, No. 1 (Feb., 2000), pp. 73-94
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3099852
Page Count: 22
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Education and Muslim Identity: The Case of France
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Abstract

The French republican principles upon which public education is based include strict separation of religion from schooling. At the same time, public funds subsidise a large number of private schools, over 90% Catholic. Virtually no recognition or public support is provided for Muslim or Jewish schools, nor is there any public or group demand that it do so. This article examines the complex and changing context in which Muslim identity has evolved in France for and by second and third generation immigrants of Muslim origin from the Maghreb (Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia) or to a lesser degree from ex-Yugoslavia, Turkey or sub Saharan Africa. The latest phase is the most confrontational as the Muslim origin population, regardless of its actual heterogeneity or length of stay in France, is affected by the waves of terrorism and fundamentalism flowing from the Algerian civil war. Ill-informed French public opinion frequently amalgamates all Maghreb or Machrek individuals and communities when faced with the threat of violence. This article situates the official discourse which proclaims that the state and its schools promote a secular and equal opportunity for all and at the same time makes no allowance for cultural, linguistic, religious or socio-economic diversity. It examines more recent attempts by French governments to address the longer term needs and aspirations (especially religious) of immigrant populations of Muslim origin as it becomes clear that these populations are massively becoming French citizens and have no further plans to return to countries of origin. The article concludes with reflections on the specificity of the French approach to religious and cultural diversity. Above all, it emphasises a certain unity of view across political parties and communities that this specificity, although in crisis, does not require major change of the traditional republican approach.

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