With hard hitting journalism like this, I can’t imagine why Buzzfeed News had to lay off hundreds of employees a few months ago.
It’s started to slip from the public conciousness at this point, but on April 15th a large part of the Notre Dame Cathedral in France burned. This led to an outpouring of financial support to help rebuild the damaged portions of the Christian church, which also was a linchpin of western civilization throughout it’s history.
You’d think when such a historic monument to Christianity burns, we could stay focused on that specific event. Not Buzzfeed News though. They decided it’d be good to connect the Notre Dame fire with (checks notes)…discrimination and a supposed lack of mosques in France.
With the help of billionaires, President Emmanuel Macron raised $1 billion for the reconstruction of Notre Dame, but what about France’s huge shortage of mosques?…
…“When you are a minority, I feel like you’re always asked to say that ‘I love France and I thank France for whatever happened to come to me.’ It’s something that is requested,” Diallo told BuzzFeed News. “I didn’t take part in it because I didn’t want to be like the ‘model minority.’ … I didn’t like the idea that you need to prove more than anyone else that you’re connected to France.”
Diallo’s worries proved well-founded, as the fire has added new fuel to long-running culture wars over French identity. The large donations for the government’s reconstruction fund immediately pledged by France’s richest families made headlines around the world and inflamed the months-long Yellow Vest movement over economic inequality. But there was less international attention paid to the fact that some on the right also immediately proclaimed the fire as a reminder of France’s “Christian heritage,” a notion that has been used to marginalize the country’s Muslim minority and oppose LGBT rights.
Notre Dame is, indisputably, a reminder of France’s Christian heritage. No scare quotes are needed, nor is such a fact doing anything to marginalize Muslims.
The article then gets into the issue of there being more churches than mosques.
But today, this law is contributing to a huge imbalance in the space available for worship. The French Interior Ministry estimated in 2017 that there is one church for every 275 French people who identify as Catholic, while there is one mosque for every 1,300 Muslims.
Some local authorities have found indirect ways to help ease the cost of building new mosques but local officials and communities have a history of blocking construction, and the French government has moved to cut off donations from foreign governments. There’s debate over whether to allow more direct government support for new mosques, but many Muslims also oppose this idea, fearing government money would also bring government control.
There’s an easy problem to this. Muslims in France can put up their own money to build more mosques. The idea that the French government needs to fund them seems rather odd to me. While some churches in France were government funded centuries ago, that’s no longer the case after 1905. If anyone wants to build a house of worship, that is for the congregants to fund. I don’t mean that rudely but just as an issue of common sense.
Rokhaya Diallo, a racial activist who this article seems to revolve around, had this to say about Notre Dame burning.
Diallo, the BET host, said it saddened her to think that, if something were to happen to the Great Mosque of Paris — which was built in 1926 in recognition of Muslims from the French empire who died fighting for France in World War I — it wouldn’t be felt as a blow to France as a whole in the same way as a historic cathedral. She felt the vitriol directed at one student leader with a foreign-sounding name who tweeted dismissively about the Notre Dame fire was hypocritical, in a country where many defended the right to publish cartoons mocking the prophet Mohammed as protected by the law of secularism. She also noted that a white student with a French-sounding name who also mocked the fire online did not get anywhere near the same amount of abuse for his comments.
“I think that people understand that we have this special care for churches.” Diallo said. “We still need to question the fact that I’ve seen people saying that [Notre Dame] is the heart of France, it’s the French identity. ‘Yes, it’s part of the French identity, but how can you make people feel included if the general discourse is that?”
Again, not to dismiss any foreign minority group, but the reason people would care less is because Islam is not the heritage of France. Saying Notre Dame, a nearly 1000 year old symbol of the nation’s progress, is the heart of France is not divisive. It’s simply factual. If she finds it offensive, perhaps it’s her mentality that is the problem? If a church burns in Iran, would Muslims mourn it with the same vigor as the Grand Mosque burning? Of course not and they wouldn’t be expected to.
Buzzfeed asked an Archbishop in Paris about the discrpency between churches and mosques. This was his response.
When asked by BuzzFeed News about the fact that there was a government campaign to invest in rebuilding the cathedral at a time when there was a shortage of mosques, the archbishop denied that the Catholic Church had any special status.
“The state is simply renovating what it took. … We are not going to maintain what was taken from us,” Aupetit said. “One can’t just compare the religions, which are not in the same status or the same period of history…. One needs to know that, simply the Muslims have the right to [worship] spaces. It has to be seen how this can be done, but I think the state is thinking about that. Now, it seems natural to me that the state [would] maintain the buildings that it owns.”
He continued, “We have the same status as the other [faiths] — which is to say, if I build a church, it’s the Catholic Church that pays,” adding that in Nanterre, where he used to be bishop, the Catholic Church built two-thirds of its churches now in operation since 1905, “and I can tell you that it’s very, very expensive.
Exactly. Notre Dame is a unique situation, both because of it’s rich history in France and because it is still connected to the government due to that history. Trying to compare Notre Dame to random neighborhood mosques, or a lack thereof, is a silly comparison on it’s face. Just because the government started a fund to rebuild Notre Dame (and private donations will do the actual rebuilding) does not mean it is France’s job to now build mosques.
To be clear, everyone has the right to worship freely, even in an increasing illiberal society like France. That includes Muslims. History is what history is though. The Christian faith is deeply embedded in France’s lineage. Islam is not. Those that have come later have to accept that to some degree and should not expect parity with iconic structures like Notre Dame. Given the amount of Muslim migrants France has already taken in, it seems rather ungrateful to make these complaints in the first place.
The real question is why Buzzfeed thinks this is the topic to broach after Notre Dame burned? This article could have been written without disingenuously tying in the burning of a world famous cathedral in order to set it up as some kind of foe. It’s a garbage use of the situation.