Jews and Muslims in France
A multi-day forum brought together diplomats, leading scholars and SFS students, faculty and friends for frank and civil conversation about religion in secular society.
The Program for Jewish Civilization sponsored “Jews and Muslims in France: The Challenge of Multiculturalism in Contemporary Europe,” held March 17 and 18. His Excellency Pierre Vimont, French Ambassador to the United States, offered remarks on the first day of the event. His Excellency Daniel Shek, Israeli Ambassador to France, spoke on the second day.
Vimont’s theme was “What does it mean to be French?” Vimont said most immigrants to France have managed to assimilate and integrate into society. He described a French outlook on immigration that is “quite different from the Anglo-Saxon approach” insofar as distinctions of race and religion are not legally recognized. Amb. Vimont said that this approach enabled France to hold true to the Declaration of Rights of Man and of the Citizen and the core values of openness, universality, freedom and equality that its authors underscored in 1789.
One panel discussion focused on state policies and featured Jason Isaacson of the American Jewish Committee, Ahmet Kuru of San Diego State University and Daniel Sabbagh of CERI, Paris. Sabbagh said differences between American and French sensibilities might be seen in U.S. Census forms, which asked respondents to identify themselves by race. In France, it is illegal for the government to ask such a question. Sabbagh added that French immigrants are less likely to refer to themselves today as a “second generation immigrant,” for example, and more likely to indicate that they are a “product of diversity.”
Visiting Professor of Jewish Civilization Sarah Fainberg organized the conference. The discussions in the Copley Formal Lounge took place in the context of the (then-ongoing) debate in France over whether to prohibit the public wearing of full-face veils. Such a ban could be the first in Europe; similar legislation was also advancing in Belgium.