Yes, and it runs deeper than outside observers imagine. Or so says Rachel Levy, who in an article at Slate offers reflections on the state of French public life and whether it’s possible to be both a committed believer and a committed patriot in that country (she has Jews in mind, given the recent tragedy, but also touches on those who take Islam or Christianity seriously enough to put their faith before their civic pride). Her piece is rather remarkable for several reasons, the first of which is the historical background it provides readers unfamiliar with the intricacies of postwar French religious relations. To take one rather stunning example Levy provides:
U.S. media noted this week that the Jewish school shooting in Toulouse was the worst violent anti-Semitic attack in France in decades. They were referring to the 1980 rue Copernic synagogue bombing, which rose to further infamy after then Prime Minister Raymond Barre characterized the attack as a heinous act against Jews in a synagogue that struck four innocent Frenchmen crossing the streetagain reinforcing the idea that one couldnt be French and Jewish.
[Furuthermore], the claim that Mondays shooting was the worst violent attack in decades is somewhat misleading, since it glances over the fact that there have been scores of violent anti-Semitic acts in recent yearsyes, perhaps not reported by the international press, but certainly on par in horridness.
From this, Levy looks back to what has been the untouchable assumption of French public life:
. . . after those four years living among the French, I concluded that the countrys nearly religious devotion to secularism is at least a partial explanation for the countrys latent racism and anti-Semitism. It also fosters an ignorance that likely contributed to the perverted mindset of the suspected Toulouse gunman. Mohammed Merah might have been a radical Islamist of Algerian background, but hes also a French national who grew up in Toulouse.
That’s quite a charge—and, in my opinion, too brash in drawing a direct causal line. But is Levy completely wrong? Is there a sense in which the environment that birthed and sustains laicite—a plain contempt of religious faith and drive to marginalize it at all costs—the same disposition from which other, more sinister prejudices and (ultimately) actions can take as their starting point?