Mary Claire Gustafson
The French government describes laïcité as “la liberté de conscience et la liberté de culte, la séparation des institutions publiques et des organisations religieuses, et l’égalité de tous devant la loi quelles que soient leurs croyances ou leurs convictions” (para 1). Again, asserting laïcité’s similarities to secularism. When reading laïcité on paper, it sounds like a positive idea. If you can separate your government from religion, the people can live in harmony; it is as if you are now striving towards utopia. Yet, how can this be possible in a town of 900,000 migrants?
Marseille is now home to people from places such as Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, Algeria, Libya, Israel, America, England, and Palestine. Marseille is part of the cradle of civilization on the Mediterranean sea. For 60 years, African men migrated to France to work and help rebuild after destruction of wars. When France passed the family reunification act of 1974, which made the migration population less work dominated and more family dominated, these families brought with them their identities into the Republic of France, a Christian world. Laïcité then began to be used as a tool to separate the migrants as “minorities” , as “the other”. In theory, Laïcité “protects the freedom to believe or not to believe, to express and practice one’s faith, but also that ‘ it is the privileged site for meeting and exchange, where people find themselves and can contribute to the national community’.” (Bowen 29). Abstractly, laïcité protects the people in France, giving them the sense that they are not racist or judgemental. It encourages people to all work together in a melting pot community towards a “national community.” Although this is the intention, the after effect raises more hostility among diverse people groups living in tight quarters who are striving to hold on to their identity. The hijab worn by Muslim woman, making up about 10% of the Marseille population, has become a symbol of identity, as well as a religious practice. As Republic of France continues to enforce laïcité, the melting pot of Marseille continues to simmer as cultures intermingle on the Rue de Capucins, tour through le Vieux Port, and struggle to hold on to their Mediterranean identity.