Can Islam Be French? Pluralism and Pragmatism in a Secularist State

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Can Islam Be French? Pluralism and Pragmatism in a Secularist State
By John R. Bowen
Princeton University Press, 2009
242 pp. $35.00
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Americans' conception of Islam in France is dominated by the specter of demographic or political apocalypse. Lurid jeremiads regularly ask, "Will France become Islamic?" Bowen, an anthropologist, demonstrates that this view is nonsense -- not just because Muslims constitute a tiny minority of the French population but also, and more important, because most Muslims in France seek to assimilate in ways that are secular, moderate, and peaceful. Polls suggest that the French are more optimistic than most Westerners about the assimilation of Muslims and that French Muslims are not especially committed to asserting their religious identity vis-à-vis the state. This book is not for people who think that headscarves, burqas, and the annulment of marriages to nonvirgins mark the beginning of the end for French civilization and Western civilization more generally. But it will be engaging to those who see these matters as complex social issues that pose difficult but ultimately surmountable challenges for Muslims and indigenous French alike. Bowen has prowled French streets, suburbs, and villages to investigate the subtle cultural accommodations that are emerging. In striking contrast to overwrought fear mongering, his scholarly reportage reveals a nation of real French people resolving everyday problems -- where to buy meat, how to get married -- and getting on with their lives.