Leading article: A divisive move that Sarkozy may regret

Share
Related Topics

When Germany's Iron Chancellor, Otto von Bismark, took on the power of the Catholic Church in the newly united Germany of the 1870s, the struggle was nicknamed the kulturkampf – the struggle for culture. Predicated on the idea that no good German could be loyal to a foreign religious authority based in Rome, it was packaged as a drive to liberate rather than oppress believers. It got nowhere. Catholics scented another agenda, rallied round their Pontiff, and when forced to choose between faith and loyalty to the state, often chose the former.

Such considerations should weigh on the minds of people in France as their own kulturkampf against the wearing of the full veil gains legal teeth – and as a number of French women make it clear that they feel more, not less, determined to wear the burka, or niqab, in public now they run the risk of arrest.

British opinion has failed to take seriously the strength of feeling in France on this subject, often assuming that hostility to the veil is a shibboleth of far-right Islamophobes. This is a misunderstanding. Far more than Britain, France knows the full meaning of religious warfare. In the 1570s, Paris literally flowed with the blood of slaughtered Protestants, and the ensuing conflict tore the country apart for generations. Knowledge of how much France has suffered at the hands of religion underpins a left-right consensus on the need for laicité to be upheld in public life.

It is unfortunate that this in many ways admirable philosophy has become tangled up in the murky calculations of an embattled president, as he prepares for re-election in 2012 against a backdrop of dismal poll ratings, some of which show him trailing behind the far right's Marine Le Pen. There are suspicions that Nicolas Sarkozy might even welcome public clashes with hard-line Muslims over the veil, seeing them as a source of votes. If so, he is playing with fire. Very few Muslim women in France wear full veils. But many French Muslims clearly dislike seeing their community singled out, and there is a danger that the new ban will prove counter-productive. It is good that no major party in Britain wants to take this country down this path.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UX Consultant

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working with a 8 st...

Recruitment Genius: Part-time Editor

£8000 - £12000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A unique opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Executive

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An exceptional opportunity has arisen for a pa...

Recruitment Genius: Kitchen and Bathroom Installers

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of designer kitch...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A blackbird gets to grips with a pyracantha bush  

Nature Studies: Summer didn’t end today, it’s been over for a fortnight

Michael McCarthy
Jeremy Corbyn is widely tipped to become the Labour Party's next leader  

Whatever happens in the Labour leadership race, Jeremy Corbyn’s candidacy is not a calamity

Steve Richards
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border