Editor's Note: Our least structured thoughts are published regularly as "Notes." These include germs of arguments, random musings, and updates on what we are reading and writing. If you like this post, consider becoming a member to support our work.
After the horrific attacks in France this past month, the 'Islam' debate has returned, and it has spilled over into the United States. If you're interested, here's what I wrote in 2015. Some of it, for better or worse, still applies. This time around, the wildly varying responses from American and French commentators is telling. This gap isn't because Americans are more woke or that the French are less, although both of those things happen to be true. This has much more to do with completely divergent conceptions of religious freedom, pluralism, and how to live with deep difference.
On October 31, Emmanuel Macron offered up one of the silliest tweets of 2020 by a president not named Trump: "Laïcité never killed anyone." First, it's factually incorrect. There's the French revolution and subsequent anti-clerical violence for starters. But then there's also the application of laic principles to Tunisia, Turkey, and to a lesser extent Algeria, all of which led to considerable repression in the name of emptying religion from the public square. Killing aside, laïcité, even in its milder forms, is at the very least coercive. Almost by definition, laïcité requires the undoing of what was once done, so it can't help but be coercive.