Thursday, November 12, 2009

French Culture, French Faith

The French resistance flag during World War II used the cross of Joan of Arc

Society can be understood as the seemingly anonymous mass of people that make up the world. Laws govern society in general, but it is normally a language, with shared values and territory, that defines a culture. Within a culture, people develop even more particular interests with codes and slang to create a smaller community or subculture.

Media plays an interesting role. Media has different modes of address for different audiences. Media that is directed to society in general is mass media in many languages with the most general content, as in Euronews. Media that is addressed to a particular culture or subculture, has a unique mode of address and uses unique codes that may not be understood by society in general. We must de-code the slang of a culture or subculture in order to understand their media. New media networking sites like Facebook, encourage the diversification of subcultures.

To make matters even more complicated, people who may share language and territory can have different values or faiths. So while each person identifies with a culture they are in competing subcultures. France has a historic national and cultural identity in its language, territory and indigenous Gaul-Germanic race that is predominately Catholic. "French" then is a culture of language, place, race and faith. The recent 20th century integration of French colonies added other races and other faiths, which have consequently become subcultures that are transforming French culture.

French Faith Facts

St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, the 1572 assassination of leading Protestant Huguenots in Paris, painting Debat-Ponson, 1880

France is historically Catholic in part due to the expulsion of all Protestant Huguenots by the 17th century.
Most polls find however that only about 40% of French people acknowledge God.
A 2003 census found
Roman Catholic 62%
Muslim (largely North African) 6%
Protestant 2%
Jewish 2%
Unaffiliated 28%
The BBC and most other reliable reports suggest the Islamic population is closer to 10%, at 6 million Muslims, the largest in Europe. The French “integration model” is the government’s cultural plan for religious harmony

The Algeria Factor

-Located in North Africa it is the 11 largest nation territory by size
-France invaded Algeria in 1830 and claimed it as a colony
-50,000 French people re-located to build up the country and created new farming
-The native Algerian Jews were accepted as French citizens but the black African Muslims were not given French citizenship
-The Algerians fought for independence in 1954 with De Gualle’s support in 1958 re-writing the French republic law, but it not in place until 1962.
-When Algeria became a separate nation many people fled to France and claimed citizenship. Since 1962, black Algerians have re-located outside of Paris city limits creating a race and faith community with tension.

Jacques Derrida, Philosopher as Mediator

Jacques Derrida was an Algerian Jew who came to Paris during the German occupation in the early 1940’s and was prevented from attending school because of his faith. He is best known for Deconstruction. He also spoken openly about the French Algerian identity issue.

“In Algeria, I had begun to get into literature and philosophy. I dreamed of writing-and already models were instructing the dream, a certain language governed it.”

“Each time this identity announces itself, someone or something cries: Look out for the trap, you're caught. Take off, get free, disengage yourself. "

September 2005, Islamic Cartoons in the Media

The Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy began after twelve editorial cartoons, most of which depicted the Islamic prophet Muhammad, were published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten on 30 September 2005. The newspaper announced that this publication was an attempt to contribute to the debate regarding criticism of Islam and self-censorship. This led to protests across the Muslim world, some of which escalated into violence with police firing on the crowds (resulting in more than 100 deaths, all together), including setting fire to the Danish Embassies in Syria, Lebanon and Iran, storming European buildings. Importantly, these cartoons were re-printed by France Soir in 2006, which continued the controversy.

October 2005, French Riots in the Media

The 2005 civil unrest in France of October and November (in French Les émeutes de banlieues de 2005) was a series of riots involving mainly the burning of cars and public buildings at night starting on 27 October 2005 in Clichy-sous-Bois. Events spread to poor housing projects (the cités HLM) in various parts of France. A state of emergency was declared by President Chirac on 8 November 2005. It was extended for three months on 16 November by the Parliament. The biggest riots since the May 1968 unrest were triggered by the accidental death of two teenagers, Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré, in Clichy-sous-Bois, a working-class commune in the eastern suburbs of Paris, who were allegedly chased by the police. They tried to hide from the police in a power substation where they were electrocuted. Nicolas Sarkozy was interior minister at the time and is blamed for inciting the riots by calling some of the rioters racaille , meaning racial scum and Sarkozy’s Jewish heritage was used as a chant in the racial/faith riots of 2005.

Academic Perspectives

Kay Adamson in her 2006 article "Issues of Culture and Identity in Contemporary France," describes the Anti-Semetic issues in France's past, as well as the contemporary challenge of Algeria. Yasmin Ibrahim's article "The Mediated ‘Ummah’ in Europe," describes Islamic faith and media as a global situation. Also relevant is Russell Sandberg's essay "Religious Identities in the European Media: A Legal perspective," which describes the recent removal of the blasphemy law in the UK. Importantly Sandberg identifies that in each democratic society we find the freedom of faith and the freedom of expression are competing in media.

Read the Reuter's report on faith integration: US Vs. Europe.

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