Shadi Hamid, Mustafa Akyol, and French Secularism


Shadi Hamid and Mustafa Akyol are two smart pundits with slightly different agendas. Shadi Hamid is an avid defender of political Islam, which he considers a legitimate conservative expression of the Islamic faith. Mustafa Akyol, on the other hand, believes in what he describes as “the flourishing of liberalism in the nineteenth-century Ottoman Empire” and “the unique Islamo-liberal synthesis,” as an answer to challenges facing Muslims in the modern world. 

The two pundits’ stances on Islam and Islamism are not identical. Recently, however, Shadi Hamid and Mustafa Akyol decided to put their differences aside and unite in criticising France, the French version of secularismLaïcité” and the latest new law tackling Islamist extremism – the Anti-Separatism Bill, which the French Government unveiled a few days ago.

Shadi Hamid, who has passionately defended Muslim majoritarianism and illiberalism, is now critical of France’s alleged illiberalism and secularism, despite his own admission that the vast majority of the French public supports secularism. Hamid insists that Islam is inherently political, and then accuses French secularism of being anti-Islam; not political Islam. I previously wrote  explaining how Hamid’s “Islamic exceptionalism” is a flawed concept. In the past, Hamid has repeatedly argued against the West’s attempts to advocate change or reforms in the Muslim world, but now he sees no problem in demanding that the French people change their form of secularism and accept regressive Muslim behaviours. 

Mustafa Akyol, on the other hand, has taken a different stance, labelling the French approach “unhelpful.” Akyol claims he understands laïcité because his country, Turkey, in his view, has imitated the French model for almost a century, referring to Kemalism imposed by the Turkish leader Ataturk. 

Indeed, secular Turkey was illiberal and authoritarian, which backfired and ultimately contributed to the rise of the current authoritarian one-man rule in Turkey. However, to pile the Turkish and French experiences into one basket is a big error of judgment; it demonstrates that the writer either does not understand laïcité or deliberately tries to distort it. 

Unlike Ataturk, the French leaders did not impose secularism on their subjects, which is precisely why both countries have had different religious and social discourses. Moreover, modern France has no record of coups or dictatorship that sabotaged the democratic process in Turkey on various occasions.  

As French diplomat Charles Thepaut aptly explained, Mustafa Akyol confuses  policies and legal rules, for which a government is responsible, with social trends and behaviours. “Laïcité,” is a principle framing a policy, while bigotry and racism are behaviours found in all societies. 

It is deeply disappointing to see that both pundits have resorted to demonising French secularism, bewailing the “oppression” of Muslims in France, instead of standing by France when it needed Muslim intellectuality to fight terrorism, emotionalism and hate campaigns, Two non-French Muslims felt entitled to reject “laïcité” – a very sovereign French concept supported by the vast majority of French people, regardless of political affiliation. Both writers fully understand that most of the Muslims who opted to immigrate to France were fully aware of France’s secular lifestyle and culture, but decided to go ahead and settle in the country. One could argue that any application for residency in France is a tacit consent to the country’s “assertive secularism”.

 Moreover, both pundits didn’t retract their criticism of the new French law, despite publication of its draft, and it has become clear that most of the allegations against it, as Liam Duffy rightly explained, have been unfounded. This Twitter thread by Mujtaba Rahman is also insightful. 

Reading Shadi Hamid’s and Mustafa Akyol’s conceited views was as painful as watching the Netflix series “Emily in Paris.” The main protagonist, Emily, feels she has the right to lament the “illogical” European approach to numbering the floors of a building; she boastfully insists she can bring an “American perspective” to French management, despite failing to speak French. Emily means well though, and ends up adapting to the French way, while maintaining her personality and beliefs; sadly, that is not what Shadi Hamid and Mustafa Akyol are enticing Muslims to do. 

Postscript Twitter thread 

To add more perspective to the above piece, I herewith include a few tweets, by various commentators, which can shed broader light on France’s secularism and its new anti-separatism bill. 

About nervana111

Doctor, blogger and Commentator on Middle East issues. The only practising doctor who write in Middle Eastern politics in UK.
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