Free speech in France


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- Issues with the secularism in France

The article analyses the secularism in France and its its implications for the French society.

Education about secularism in France

  • In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, state school teachers were responsible for converting young people in rural France away from the heavy hand of Catholic dogma, and they spearheaded efforts to “educate” and “civilise” indigenous peoples in the French colonies.
  • In recent decades, teachers have been charged with trying to “integrate” France’s myriad ethnic minority communities.
  • Of the many things that teachers are expected to do, one of the most important is to embody the principles of laïcité.
  • Often translated as ‘secularism’, laïcité is better understood as a project of social cohesion and a key component of French citizenship.
  • It encompass the formal separation of Church and State, but also the evacuation of religious values from the public space and their replacement with secular values such as liberty, equality, and fraternity.

How should France respond to terrorist attacks in name of Islam

1) Compromise

  • This compromise would involve acknowledging that laïcité alone cannot fix the country’s social and political problems.
  • It would also require the French state to recognise that France has — almost without realising it — become part of the Muslim world.
  • It cannot stand apart from conflicts over religious practice that have affected countries with much larger Muslim populations, from Morocco to Indonesia.

2) Emphasize the French values

  • Another way would be to double down on French “values”.
  • This is the path that President Emmanuel Macron has chosen.
  • He and his cabinet have spent a lot of time in recent weeks emphasising the importance of laïcité and denouncing all those who are seen to threaten it.
  • But this strategy is a risky one.
  • For a start, it is almost guaranteed to elicit a hostile response from leaders of Muslim-majority countries, many of whom are keen to find an international issue that can distract from their own domestic problems.


So, while it might seem like a good strategy to use the idea of laïcité as a shield against an amorphous Muslim threat, the danger is that this will strip it of its most positive elements and render it useless as an instrument of social integration. That, more than any terror attack, would be a tragedy for all French people.

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