The French government does not have the moral authority or practical capacity to urge Islam to modernize. The Catholic Church does.
Pierre Manent began working on his slim book about Islam and French society in the aftermath of the January 2015 murder of 11 people in and near the office of the magazine Charlie Hebdo. “Situation de la France” was published on Oct. 1. Six weeks later, terrorists affiliated with Islamic State murdered 130 people and seriously injured nearly 100 more in a series of attacks in and around Paris.
Terrorist attacks have become more brazen during the intervening months, both in Europe and America, and Mr. Manent’s thoughtful and provocative argument—now translated into English as “Beyond Radical Secularism”—deserves as much attention as the Anglophone world can give it.
“When some of our citizens take up arms against us in such a brazen and implacable way,” he writes, “this means that, not only the State, our government, our political body, but we ourselves have lost the capacity to gather and direct our powers, to give our common life form and force.”
Mr. Manent contends that France’s intellectual elite spectacularly failed to diagnose the problem of France’s enormous, largely unassimilated population of Muslims. The hope that they would accept liberal values and embrace the virtues of a secular state, he insists, was based on little more than self-flattery and naiveté.
Muslims living in Europe are not changing, Mr. Manent argues. Their religious and cultural customs are not softening or “modernizing” in the temperate atmosphere of French laïcité or other forms of European secularism.
Indeed, he writes, “we are witnessing the extension and the consolidation of the domain of Muslim practices rather than its shrinking or relaxation.” The response of France’s non-Muslim secularists has been to ignore the problem or to pretend it’s not a problem at all except insofar as white European racism has made it one. French Muslims have no reason to change because, in effect, they haven’t been asked to.