Brussels (Brussels Morning) On Tuesday, France’s Junior Minister for citizenship, Marlène Schiappa, formally launched a series of public debates on the place of religion in contemporary French society, an initiative derided across the political spectrum as both divisive and unnecessary, RFI reported.
The public debates will involve roundtable discussions between intellectuals, lawyers and social analysts, as well as working groups, on a range of topics including freedom of expression, research, youth and social cohesion.
Listening and talking
“The idea is to say ‘let’s talk together, and let’s listen to one another’,” Schiappa explained in launching the debates. Her ministry has invited various representative associations such as the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism (Licra) to participate. A special website has been created to enable some 50,000 French youth to comment directly.
Licra president Mario Stasi praised the initiative, emphasising that talk is better than some of the alternatives. “If we can shift the debate away from the gutter of hatred and insult on social media”, Stasi said, “and put different points of view side by side, and look at them seriously with a view to producing concrete proposals, then I see nothing but advantages in the idea of this national consultation”.
Despite the effort’s ostensible good intentions and the welcome by Licra, many more voices are critical of the initiative, dismissing it as a waste of time and energy. Former socialist education minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem noted the question of religion has been used as a political weapon by the far right, then the Republican right, and now by the current government.
“And the question is regularly raised, simply to exclude one religious group, as it happens, the Muslims”, Vallaud-Belkacem observed. Others, like Green MEP Yannick Jadot, criticise the fact that the consultation is only starting given that the parliament is already debating a controversial bill on the issue. “You don’t organise a debate after passing a law,” Jadot declared.