Afterwards, [President] Mitterrand and I were alone, and I said to him: "next time we should also invite a Muslim. Islam is undoubtedly the second largest religion in France."
--"You're right," he replied, "but whom? They have no leader (chef).... And then [we would have to invite] the Armenians, the Orthodox-Greek, Russian and who knows what else--we'd never see the end of it."
--"This salon is vast," I told him.... "A Muslim in the Elysee Palace for next New Year's reception, together with [the Cardinal, the Grand Rabbi and the head of the Protestant Federation], that would be a nice symbol."
Former Minister of the Interior Pierre Joxe recalling a conversation from January 1985. (1)
We must determine the practical terms of our relationship, which requires a legitimate interlocutor. ... The state will not impose its own choice, it will simply grant recognition to those who are proposed [by Muslim organizations]. ... I am counting on you all to help me lay the foundations for normal relations between the state and the Islam of France. Rest assured in any case that there is room for Islam at the table of the Republic.
Former Minister of the Interior Jean-Pierre Chevenement in November 1997. (2)
The creation of a representative council for observant Muslims--the Conseil Francais du Culte Musulman--is a landmark accomplishment of Fifth Republic France. It is a strong reaffirmation of the republican framework in which the representatives of organized religion are expected to operate in lay France. But it is also an uncharacteristic official acknowledgment of contemporary religious diversity. How did a country whose political system has been notoriously allergic to organized religion decide to assemble and embed Muslim leaders within a state-sponsored institution? Some clues are contained in the remarks above, which hint at the mindset of the ministers in charge of religious affairs. These statements, made by two key actors in the French government's efforts to integrate Islam into French state-church relations, can be seen as rhetorical bookends of a policy process aiming to bring France's Muslim population closer to the state. Over a nearly fifteen-year period, politicians of distinct party traditions drew on competing models of state-society relations to make this politically feasible.
Each of the ministers' above statements preceded a major policy initiative on Islam. In 1989, Pierre Joxe--minister of the interior at the time launched the short-lived Council for Reflection on Islam in France (CORIF); in 1999, Jean-Pierre Chevenement, minister of the interior from 1997 to 2000, began to lay the foundations for the French Council of the Muslim Religion (CFCM). What the government's post-1989 initiatives have in common was a desire to engage in a consultation with representatives of Islam in France, and they shared an indirect objective: the social integration of the growing population of North African origin. But the emphasis on how best to achieve this integration underwent a great deal of change in the intervening decade. This article reconstructs the process by which recent governments of the secular French Republic have gradually (and ironically) made the difficult decision to resort to religion policy as a tool for integrating the population of Arab-Muslim origin. This entailed a change in the way that representatives of the French state perceived the challenge of the Muslim presence during the closing decades of the twentieth century.
To take up the metaphors provided by Joxe and Chevenement, the corresponding shift occurred from an invitation to organized Islam to occupy a passive presence in the "salon" towards the more active participation at the "table of the Republic." This resulted in part from evolving policy goals to create an Islam "of" France rather than simply tolerate the existence of Islam "in" France--e.g., domestic financing of prayer space and training of religious leaders, and the encouragement of local sources of religious authority. The government's engagement of the Muslim minority offers a view of larger trends in the contested relationship between interest groups and the state in the Fifth Republic--from the neo-dirigisme of center-right administrations to the "associational liberalism" of the center-left.
State-Islam relations in contemporary France can be broken down into roughly two periods. The first fifteen years (1974-1989) was a period of toleration and minimal accommodation of the religious needs of what had inadvertently become the historic settlement of a sizeable Muslim minority. The last fifteen years' efforts (1989-2004) to place Islam within the framework of state-religion relations, on the other hand, reflect the French government's determination to incorporate the populations of Muslim background as a permanent fixture in the French landscape. During the first period, the French tolerated foreign governments' and international Muslim organizations' religious activities on their territory and passively accommodated basic religious needs. In that laissez-faire era, during which governments displayed ambivalence over the permanence of Muslim minorities, policies were driven by secularist pragmatism, national security concerns, and geopolitics--especially regarding trade relations and diplomatic ambitions in the Arab world.
In the second period of "incorporation" (1989-2004) under investigation here, however, governments used instruments of domestication and incorporation to reduce French Muslims' transnational ties. (3) The diplomatic arrangements of the first period proved unsustainable: the state was relying on the foreign representatives who were in fact stifling burgeoning national federations and local associations, because the latter were challenging the very legitimacy of foreign efforts to monopolize the regulation of Islam. The state institutionalization of Islam aires to minimize the impact of foreign religious authorities and networks on domestic populations by reaffirming the centrality of the state and casting religious practice in a national framework.
The French state, like several of its neighbors with similar populations of immigrant origin, has struck back at these foreign organizational networks by using the tools at its disposal: the institutionalization of Islam in national church-state regimes and the use of parliamentary legislation to place a domestic imprint on the religious norms of believers. Since September 11th, French officials have accelerated efforts to "de-transnationalize" the cross-border solidarity of Muslims in Europe. From the German citizenship law forcing Turks to decide between their dual nationality to the French law banning religious symbols in primary and secondary schools, governments have aimed to forcibly shelter Muslim minorities from transnational political and religious pressures.
The Political Desire to Incorporate Islam
Pierre Joxe, the socialist minister of the interior from 1988 to 1991, was the first to pursue Islam's symbolic inclusion in state institutions comparable to that of the other major religions in France. Designating a recipient of New Year's greetings signaled his ministry's good intentions towards the growing Muslim population: a rectification of Islam's absence. The dominant method of outreach towards the population of North African descent at the time, however, was otherwise rigorously republicain. It was civically oriented and assumed that immigrants' integration would occur via voluntary associations in civil society and the political parties.4 Many Muslims were French citizens, after ail, and French citizenship should guarantee equal freedom of conscience and faith. Islam should be rooted in French institutions, Joxe argued, just like other religions. Joxe's conclusion was that Muslim citizens deserved to recognize themselves in the state's image.
The most recent policies that culminated in the French Council of the Muslim Religion, however, reflect an increasing concern over Muslims' absence from national political institutions. Chevenement above called for the creation of a representative Muslim body to participate in the business of state-religion relations. By this time, the government recognized the importance of Muslim organizations in civil society, and wanted to grant a public role to Muslim religious leaders and involve them in a cooperative project of creating a French Islam.
By the late 1980s, many politicians and policymakers agreed that Muslims in France were being left on their own or abandoned by the state. The children of North African labor migrants living in suburban housing projects suffered disproportionate rates of unemployment, there were few French-born economic elites, and no deputies of Muslim origin in the National Assembly--even though Muslims theoretically counted for nearly a million voters at the time. There were insufficient Muslim prayer spaces and not enough imams; those that were in place were largely foreign-sponsored and not francophone. Those responsible for religion in the Interior Ministry began to acknowledge that further ignoring these populations' integration would invite radicalization, or a reliance on communautarisme. As then-Interior Minister Chevenement said about Islam, "I am aware of the legal difficulties that undermine state intervention in this area. But I also know the ravages provoked by feelings of humiliation; it would be unjust to let them fester." (5)
In the evolving approach to incorporating Islam into institutional life--from CORIF to CFCM--it is possible to discern a paradigm shift in the French government's overall policies towards the 5 million-strong population of North African origin. (6) As mentioned above, this is a change from recognizing that there was an Islam en France (itself a notable development) towards proactive state support for the emergence of an Islam de France. (7) Less straightforward, however, is how consensus emerged around religion as a privileged policy instrument in such unlikely terrain as Fifth Republic France; after all, French laws greatly restrict the collection of data on ethnic and religious background. (8) This secular outlook was enshrined in the 1905 law separating church and state, which prohibits the public funding or official recognition of religious communities. (9) But while there is no state recognition of religion ("l'Etat ne reconnait ni salarie aucun culte"), the state is of course well-acquainted with the major religions in its jurisdiction, in the interest of treating them equitably. (10) Given the failure of citizenship-based approaches and the French reluctance to use race or ethnicity as policymaking criteria, the focus on religion, ironically, emerged as one on which nearly everyone could agree; religion policy provided an opportunity to shape the population of recent immigrant origin and orient them towards the state.
Defining the Policy Challenge: Social, Civic or Religious?
The political science literature on paradigm shifts sheds some light on how to examine the change in emphasis underlying the French state's aims of immigrant integration. (11) A policy paradigm can be seen as the "framework of ideas and standards that specifies goals of policy and kind of instruments that can be used to attain them." (12) The accumulation of failures in one policy approach may lead to a breakdown in the belief system underlying the given paradigm. Changes in how a problem is seen naturally precipitate the alteration (and prioritization) of policy instruments used to address the problem. But "advocates of different paradigms [disagree] on [what] body of data against which a technical judgment in favor of one paradigm or another might be made." (13) Thus one policymaker might define "integration" by a population's overall educational attainment, whereas another could look to the persistence of cultural customs or to piety relative to that of the general population. (14)
Proponents of the three ways of seeing the problem--i.e., through social, civic, and religious lenses--were acting at the same time. But the promotion of a civic identity achieved limited results in the organizational aftermath of the Match for …