Twice Silenced: Religion in President Hollande’s inaugural speech:

Twice Silenced: Religion in President Hollande’s inaugural speech:

Not surprisingly president Hollande’s inaugural speech celebrated the grandeur of the Republic and the unity of France. “France faces major difficulties and must mobilize its strength in order to overcome them." To do so, France must be united as a nation. “Our differences must not become divisions, our diversity must not become discords.”

But what kinds of differences did he have in mind? He mentions the diversity of age, convictions, and geography. “Wherever we may live in the Hexagon or in the France overseas, in our villages or town sections, in our countryside: We are France!”

Notably absent in this list is the diversity of religion. As if the hurdles Frances’s diversities pose had nothing to do with the fact that entire town sections in the Hexagon are populated by French citizens with origins in and journeys from the Republic’s Arab colonies; as if there had never been an “affaire du foulard,” that is a nation-wide debate banning Muslim schoolgirls and teachers from wearing a veil in public schools.

On the heals of this declaration of France’s unity (without religion) comes Holland’s ardent support for the principle of laicité or secularism, for which he will fight like he fought against racism, anti-Semitism, or all other forms of discrimination.

So religion appears as doubly silenced: First, in the publicly promoted principle of secularism, which does not acknowledge the deep and complex relationship between Christianity and Frances national culture. Just ask a Muslim civil servant how secular this country really is, when at her office’s Christmas party she is requested to downplay her religious identity. To learn about the complex pressures of a presumably secular but culturally profoundly Christian France, it is worthwhile to read the testimony of Muslim women who decide to veil or not to veil, collected in L’une voilée, l’autre pas , a volume edited by Dounia Bouzar and Saïda Kada. Second, by not even acknowledging religion as a factor of diversity, Holland signals to those French who identify culturally as Muslim that their contribution to France does not count. There is nothing to integrate here, nothing to accept. Thus, the experience of the women who in response to religious motivations decide to veil or not to veil is invisible. Their voices are silenced. It will remain to be seen whether this silence will help to truly unify France.