1. Myths of the French Republic
Mayanthi L Fernando [+]
University of California, Santa Cruz
Reflecting on public discourse in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in 2015, including the author’s own participation in that discourse, this essay reverses the typical framing of France’s “Muslim problem” to consider the ways that French secularism (laïcité) and the French republican political tradition are problems for pluralism. Rather than take for granted the conventional narratives that laïcité entails strict neutrality and that the French nation is one and indivisible, Fernando analyzes French secularism and French republicanism as myths that are historically fabricated but have real effects on the world. Fernando draws on Muslim French civic activists’ critiques of France to trace a history of laïcité and republicanism, and to delineate the ways France has constructed Muslims as inherently different. Presenting this ethnographic methodology as a model, she also calls on her fellow scholars to take “native” interlocutors on the ground seriously as theorists in their own right and not merely as social actors, theorists who may be right about the world.