Because of the recent terrorist attacks in France primarily caused by religious differences, the French Education Ministry has intensified its campaign to strictly implement secularism inside the schools. French secularism is known as “laicite” which essentially means the elimination of religious influence in both government and civic affairs. As a result, several symbols associated with religions are already banned like large crosses, kippas, and headscarves.
A majority of the French population is in favor of the French secularism ideas because it eliminates discrimination and promotes religious freedom among individuals. But several groups are concerned especially the youth group Coexister because too much secularism might result to the annihilation or isolation of religion and eventually making it a taboo topic, particularly at schools. The group believes that instead of preventing bad things from happening, too much secularism could end up creating more room for prejudice, stereotyping, and misunderstandings.
Coexister aims to breakdown religious stereotypes among the youth and students by speaking and hosting inter-religious dialogue and activities at French schools. According to one of the group’s youth leaders Radia Bakkouch, the demand for their services from schools has increased right after the Charlie Hebdo attacks. This is amidst the intensified campaign to strictly implement French secularism. Radia is a Muslim and is accompanied by the Jew student Lazare Jefroykin. According to the two, they want to make each student feel more comfortable with their individual religious identity and avoid prejudices and misconceptions.
One of the interesting activities that they do at schools is to determine what students think about specific religions by asking them to write words that come to their mind when a particular faith is mentioned. The results are as expected, majority of the students have preconceived notions and misconceptions for each particular religion.
These according to Bakkouch and Jefroykin are some of the reasons why certain individuals become the subject of or victims of crimes and hate attacks. For example; Muslims are generally branded as terrorists while the Jews are seen to be wealthy individuals. According to one of the participating students; if everyone have the proper understanding of each individual religion, it would be easier to see their value and the need to have mutual respect.
BRIEF BACKGROUND ABOUT COEXISTER
Coexister is a French youth group or organization founded in 2009 which aims to prevent conflict especially among the youth due to religious differences. This is done by providing platforms for interfaith dialogue, by promoting solidarity as French citizens regardless of faith, education and training at the school level, and giving the youth an opportunity to get to know each religion through traveling, inter-religious tour, and experimentations of living together with individuals from other faiths.