The book deals with the fundamental question of why Islam has not been able to cast itself as one of the religions in the Western secular space like Christianity. Two arguments are dealt in detail as possible answers, one posits that separation between religion and politics is foreign to Islam; and the other claims that Islam is more than a religion, it is a culture. As practising Muslims in the West tend to resemble born-again Christians and Haredi Jews and need a proper sociological study instead of any theological debates to be understood properly. No one, I repeat no one else understand Islam in the West as much as Olivier Roy. Get this, 'Islam is a mirror in which the West projects its own identity crisis.' Why, because multiculturalism is dead leaving only French style assimilation (Laicite) as the only other viable option. The book is a study of French Laicite policy with its minority Muslims. Is Islam such a threat, or has the French identity reached such a crises point that a few hundred veiled girls and bearded preachers can overwhelm it? As a Muslim myself it a pertinent question, because if the veils and beards have failed to win me over how is it supposed to take over the wider culture?
Why is Islam been considered different from Christian Catholics when it comes to enforcing Laicite in France? One big reason is lack of political engagement with Muslims in Europe. If there is no proper representation of Muslims than how will the necessary change evolve towards Laicite? For me Olivier has hit the nail on its head here, Laicite worked against Catholics because they very indigenous to Europe and thus had proper political representation which is not the case Muslims yet unfortunately. It also seems like the West is in a hurry to deal with this latest challenge to Laicite, defining and paraphrasing Islam which is exactly what Islamic fundamentalists are doing as well! Olivier has presented a great definition of Neofundamentalism, 'it presupposes a break with previous forms of religious observance: it is a religion of the born again. It rejects the cultural and familial heritage and tends to think that the existing forms of worship are lukewarm or tinged with paganism. It believes that salvation is attained immediately through faith and hence outside any theological learning: the Taliban are proud of being only students and think they can teach the doctors of law a thing or two by the intensity of their piety.' So the conflict between state and Islam becomes even more difficult as both seem different objectives, state wants values while the Neofundamentalists constraints like halal food, veil etc. How does the state hope to integrate Islam like Catholicism by using Laicite? Olivier has some important suggestions to state players. --Focus on enforcing values instead of engaging into theological debates on Sharia. --Stop stigmatising and pigeon holing Islam as this puts many moderates and non-religious Muslims in a backward situation, thus alienating the largest group of would be converts to Laicite. So Pakistani intellectuals fighting against radical Islam in their own countries are also offended by the demonisation of girls wearing the veil in French schools. Olivier has presented another very convincing argument in the ongoing struggle between the West and Islam. For me Olivier is the only Western intellectual who really gets Islam.
My only critique is the difficult style which can be considerably mellowed down by giving more real world examples but I guess that is very difficult for any intellectual.
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This is a short book but at 115 pages long for the ideas and information it contains. I can think of no friends who would consider it to be interesting and informative. The main idea is that in France there really is an understanding of what can be done by religions on one hand and by the French State on the other hand. Quite absent is a review of what Muslims really think about existing in the modern world. Academic? Almost puerile? Almost existentialist? Do not bother with it.
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