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Ignorance Creates its Own Crucible
By Sarah Young Chami

In response to the Chicago Tribune article
A Crucible for Secularism

I was disappointed with the tone and context in the article “A Crucible for Secularism” (Page 1, June19) by Tom Hundley. The article attempts to illustrate the tensions between France’s policy of public secularism (laïcité) and rising concern among France’s clergy at the declining church attendance, juxtaposing the situation of Catholics with France’s sizable Muslim population. Unfortunately, French Muslims and Muslims in general were represented in a misleading and inaccurate manner.

Throughout the article, Mr. Hundley presents the combination of dwindling church attendance and the Muslim-majority immigrant population as a threat to France’s future. The alarmist tone of the article misrepresents the truth and is a disservice to your readers. Anxiety over a nation’s changing demographics is common, but history proves that such anxiety is unwarranted. For example, in the mid-19th centuries millions of Jews and often economically disadvantaged Catholics immigrated to the United States.

Despite protests and riots, the new arrivals were able to both maintain their faith and successfully contribute to society. The circumstance of Muslim immigration to France today is similar to the Catholic situation of 150 years ago. There is no evidence to suggest that this change in demographic will be anything but positive for the country. George Wiegal’s fear of “a Europe in which the muezzins summons the faithful to prayer from the central loggia of St. Peter’s in Rome” is unlikely and downright laughable.

It is true that Europe’s Muslim population has greatly increased over the last several decades and the trend is likely to continue. The scholars quoted in the article, however, represent this fact as something inherently bad and dangerous. This is a flawed assumption. Europe will not face “doom if it does not re-Christianize.” While the article suggests to the contrary, Muslims traditionally interpret Islamic law to state that Muslims are to live peacefully with neighbors of other faiths and that forcefully encouraging conversion is forbidden.

Unfortunately, the author chose only to quote non-Muslim theologians and scholars who were unaware of or unwilling to make this point. Furthermore, the article points out that French Muslims report a similar degree of religiosity to their Catholic counterparts. Perhaps the article should have limited itself to describing Laïcité and the France’s decrease in religiosity among the population in general.

Overall, the article fails to accurately represent the faces of Christianity and Islam in France. By only quoting an illegal immigrant and alarmist scholars, the article neglects the richness and complexity of both the Catholic and Muslim populations. Islam is not the threat to France, however, ignorance is.

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