I thought I’d share the findings of an interesting study of French Muslims just been published here in France.
Unlike the US, where the government obsessively counts and classifies those among us who have, say, strands of Cherokee DNA, the French government is not permitted to classify people by ethnicity nor to ask census questions about race or origins. The Republic is based on the idea that all citizens are equal and free from distinctions of class, race, or religion. (After a while here, this really starts to seem like common sense. When recently I filled out a form requesting my absentee ballot, complete with the standard box to check indicating my race, it struck me how inappropriate, intrusive, and obsessive it is constantly to ask American citizens to report their own skin color.)
It’s refreshing that the French government is genuinely color-blind, or at least, that it insists upon this ideal. On the other hand, lack of data about minorities hampers the state’s ability to measure how well these minorities are doing or recognize when a group, however artificial, is having problems best addressed qua group.
Because the government doesn’t count minorities, studies like this one are the closest thing we have to detailed census data, and thus especially valuable to those of us trying to figure out just what’s really going on here amid all the mostly pointless noise. A study like this is worth far more than anecdotal reports, especially when those reports sensationalized to generate site traffic and clicks. The author, Hakim El Karoui, is a professional geographer; he worked with the polling company iFOP, and the report seems well-designed and methodologically rigorous. They began with a nationally representative sample of more than 15,000 people, from which they extracted a sub-sample of 1029 who claimed to be Muslim or to have at least one Muslim parent. If you read French, you can read the whole thing here.
It’s very interesting, and none of this will be reported in the US, I’m sure, but it’s far too long for me to translate in one post. So today I’ll translate some of the highlights, add a few thoughts of my own, and summarize the chapters that follow. If any of them interest you, let me know, and I’ll translate them for you, or summarize them, in the coming week.
- Self-identified Muslims constitute 5.6 percent of the metropolitan population in France. (This is far less than commonly claimed in the US media, which often says they’re 10 percent of the French population, and sometimes puts the figure as high as 15 percent. I knew those numbers were too high, but didn’t realize the real figure was this low — although it’s consistent with what I see around me. This also means that the commonly-quoted claim that France’s Muslim population is the highest in Europe is probably wrong, although I don’t know if our estimates of the number of Muslims in other European countries are much more accurate.)
- Of the sample of 1029, 15 percent say they are not Muslims, but have at least one Muslim parent — meaning this group is about 1 percent of France’s population.
- Only 7.5 percent of the respondents identify as Muslims despite having neither a Muslim father nor mother. So the exit rate from Islam is twice as high as the entry rate. (This is obviously significant: Scandalized reports that France is being “Islamized” and the French are converting to Islam at a significant rate are fantasy and invention. Muslims have much more reason to fear secularization than vice-versa.)
- More than one in two of the respondents’ parents were born in France; 24 percent were naturalized French citizens, and 26 percent were foreign nationals.
- The average age of the respondent was 35.8. (This is younger than the average French citizen, but not really young enough to be a frighteningly virile cohort that will somehow outbreed non-Muslims.)
- The respondents’ fathers mainly come from Algeria and Morocco: 31 and 20 percent, respectively. Tunisia accounts for another 8 percent, the rest of Africa a bit more than 15 percent, and Turkey about 5 percent. The respondents’ mothers exhibited a similar profile, with very little endogamy.
- People who belong to the working classes (the authors’ term) and day laborers are over-represented. Almost 25 percent are blue-collar workers, as opposed to 13.1 percent in the overall sample; and 38% are unemployed: This is twice the average French unemployment rate. (“Average” rates here are what they extrapolated from the general sample.)
- Muslims tend to be overrepresented in precarious forms of employment (fixed term, temporary, part-time). But we’re also seeing the emergence of a middle and upper class: 10 percent were in middle management and 5 percent were very highly-skilled workers. (“Highly-skilled” is my best effort at translating a term no American would use: “professions intellectuelles supérieures.” Literally: “intellectually superior professions.”)
- The community is characterized by four traits. 1. Regular religious practice: 31 percent went to a mosque or prayer room once a week, as opposed to 8.2 percent of regular churchgoers (or appropriate analogue) in the general population; 2. A marked preference for halal food: 70 percent of the respondents said they “always” buy halal meat, 22 percent bought it “sometimes” and only 6 percent said “never”; 3. The majority supports veiling, despite major divisions: 65 percent are in favor of the veil; 4. The absence of widespread Muslim communalism: 78 percent of the respondents who are registered on electoral lists said they don’t always vote for Muslim candidates.
- Interestingly, contrary to popular opinion, men are less conservative than women. Among men, 26 percent reject veiling. Only 18 percent of women agree. (The phrasing of the question: “Do you look favorably upon veiling?”) Men were also more likely to say, “Everyone should do what they want.” The authors note the difficulty of interpreting the answer to this question, given that the full face veil is illegal in France. Does the response reflect a genuine preference for veiling, they wonder, or does it represent resentment of a meddlesome state? They’re particularly perplexed, because only 23 percent of women said that they “always” wore hijab; 7 percent said they wore it except when they were at work or school; and 5 percent wore it “rarely.”
The authors of the study count three broad groups:
- The “silent majority,” comprising 46 percent of respondents. “Their value system aligns with French society, they thus contribute to the evolution of the particularities of their faith.”
- “Conservatives.” This is something of a composite group. “They make up 25 percent of the sample and are at the heart of the political and ideological battle. The proposals in our report are tools for winning this battle. Proud to be Muslims, they claim the right to express their religion in public spaces. Very pious (Sharia is of great importance to them, so long as it’s in the boundaries of the Republic’s laws), they feel positively about expressions of religion in the workplace, and have widely adopted the “halal” standard as the definition of “a real Muslim” They firmly reject the niqab and polygamy and accept secularism.”
- “Authoritarians,” who make up 28 percent. They are mostly young, low-skilled, and at the bottom of the employment hierarchies. They live in the large suburbs around the cities. This group is defined more by its use of Islam to signify revolt from the rest of French society than by its conservatism.
Here are the chapter headings. You’ll probably be able to see from them that interesting things are made possible by the French tradition of dirigisme and its lack of a free exercise clause. Let me know if you see something you’d like to learn more about; I’ll translate it for you this week.
SummaryForeward by Hakim El Karoui1. A PORTRAIT OF MUSLIMS IN FRANCE1.1. Methodology1.2. Sociological and demographic characteristics of Muslims in France1.2.1. Demography1.2.2. Nationality1.2.3. Country of Origin1.2.4. Other Characteristics1.3. Typology of Muslims according to their Religiosity and Sociodemographic Description of Groups1.4. Which Islamic Practices?1.4.1. Halal and Dietary Norms1.4.2. The Wearing of the Veil: What Motivates It?1.4.3. Which Religious Authorities?1.4.4. How Often Do they Visit the Mosque?1.5. Relationship to France, its Institutions, and Society1.5.1. Attachment1.5.2. Defiance1.5.3. Openness to Others and Diversity1.5.4. Political Opinions about French Society1.5.5. Relationship to Politics1.6. Conclusions of the Inquiry2. FRENCH ISLAM: ORGANZED FROM THE TOPa. Consular Islami. Foreign Countries that Transmit Islamii. Foreign Countries that Transmit a Fundamentalist Islamb. L’UOIF (The Union of Islamic Organizations in France): An Islam à la française?i. Origins and Organizationii. An Agent of French Islamiii. Notoriety and Institutionalization: Decline or Neutralization of the UOIF?c. Salafism: A Rampant Ideology without a Central Organizatoni. A Modern Fundamentalismii. Public Targetsiii. Differences between Brotherhood Fundamentalism and Salafist Fundamentalismd. State Efforts to Organize a French Islami. Pierre Joxe and the Creation of the Conseil de Réflexion sur l’Islam en France (French Deliberative Council on Islam) or CORIF (1989- 1993)ii. The Pasqua Method, or The Algerian Choiceiii. Jean-Louis Debré, or the Laisser-faire Methodiv. Jean-Pierre Chevènement : From Istichâra to the Premises of the CFCMv. Nicolas Sarkozy and the Birth of the CFCMvi. Results and Perspectives from Today’s CFCMvii. Relations between Islam and the Republic: The Methods and the Menviii. Relations between the State and Islam in Europe: An imperfect Institutionalization3. ISLAM FROM THE BOTTOMa. Everyday Islami. Everyday Islam: The Pyramid and the Rhizomeii. Weight and Role of the Mosquesiii. Weight and Role of the Imamsb. Islam on the Internet: The Islam of the Multitude4. RECOMMENDATIONSa. Proposalsi. Create The French Foundation for Islam and the Muslim Association for a French Islam: Two Major Institutionsii. A Chief Imam of France to Express an Islamic Doctrine Compatible with Republican Valuesiii. Extend the Alsace-Morelle Concordat to Islamiv. Accelerate Arab-Language Educationv. Create and Professionalize Chaplainsvi. Facilitate the Management of Everyday Islamic Lifevii. Create a Secretary of State, named by the Prime Minister, for Religious Affairs and Secularismviii. Develop Knowledge of Islamix. Optional Scenario — Studied but not Recommended by this Report: Update the Law of 1905 to take into Account New SectsIS A FRENCH ISLAM POSSIBLE? For and Against
And please don’t forget: If you’d like to know a lot more about this, I’m writing a book about it — and funded entirely by my readers:
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