What is Laïcité? A History of French Understandings of Secularism vis-à-vis the French Muslim Question

Faisal Abualhassan

Recent debate about Islam in France and the discourses of French President Emmanuel Macron, following his October 2020 speech on the “fight against separatism” and his government’s calls for strengthened security laws to control French mosques following the beheading of the high-school teacher Samuel Paty in the same month, have seen the French president and his supporters rally around the need for “republican values” in French Islam, namely respect for laïcité, a word that is too often accepted in France as synonymous with secularism. This commentary seeks to clarify the concept of laïcité, both in French history in general and vis-à-vis Islam in French history in particular.