CAMD Scholar Carson Wardell ’16 Addresses Islamophobia in France

While interning at a French consulate in Chicago during the past two summers, Carson Wardell ’16 interacted with Moroccans in France, hearing firsthand the hardships these immigrants faced in France. Inspired by these interactions, Wardell decided to further explore the roots of Islamophobia in France and its contributions to the continuation of Islamic fundamentalism.

Standing before a full audience in Kemper Auditorium last Friday night, Carson Wardell ’16, one of this year’s Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD) Scholars, shared his research exploring the role that French ideologies held in shaping the French-Muslim experience in his presentation titled “The Rise of Islamophobia and the Integration of Muslims in France.”

Wardell found universalism, a belief in a singular French identity, to be one of the main reasons for Islamophobia in France.

“[Universalism is] the belief in the abstract citizen… That’s to say that the French people are regarded as singular and universal in their identity. Universalism, then, can be broadly categorized as the profound fear of and the reluctance to accept difference,” said Wardell during his presentation. “The problem lies in the fact that Maghrebi Muslims don’t blend in or assimilate as easily as other immigrants in France because of their religious and cultural differences. Thus, universalist integration singles out and marginalizes Muslims, which fosters an islamophobic culture,” wrote Carson in an email to The Phillipian.

Claire Gallou, Instructor in French and CAMD faculty advisor to Wardell, hoped to further the discussion of French multiculturalism that ensued following “#jesuischarlie,” a Commentary article she wrote that was published in The Phillipian on January 16, 2015. “I was eager to somehow continue the discussion, wrestle with contradictions raised by [the terrorist attacks in Paris last January] and find a way to expose thoroughly and as neutrally as possible the difficulties that a very old country such as a France encounters when it comes to multiculturalism. I was interested in linking this topic to multiculturalism and integration in the U.S. and on our campus. [Wardell] gave me the key,” said Gallou in her introduction of Wardell.

One main aspect of universalism is the idea of “laïcité.” One France’s founding principles, “laïcité” is defined as especially strict secularism, the principle of the separation of government from religious institutions.

“To conflate [laïcité] with our American version of secularism doesn’t grasp how strict [it] is. The whole idea of pledging to one nation under God under laïcité principles would be absurd. It would be completely ridiculous. It is a much stronger and much more absolute interpretation of secularism. It can be traced back to hundreds of years of the Catholic church controlling the views and using the French government,” said Wardell.

Wardell found that the French-universalism expectations play a key role in Muslim immigration in France.

“France places really high demands on its immigrants. It places really high demands on them to adopt a national identity, to become French [and] to adopt French cultural norms,” he said.

Following the presentation, Wardell invited a group of students up to the stage to share and discuss their experiences as Muslim students at Andover. “When I first came to Andover, I was really happy to see that there were a lot of people that were really understanding of my faith and my culture. For instance, my house counselor would tell me that there would be a fire drill so I could cover up before it happened, and even my cross country coach told me I could be a little late sometimes if I had to pray before practice… I was really happy to see these kinds of people here,” said Zahra Marhoon ’17 during the panel.

Nadha Illikkal ’17 shared that while she thinks Andover is tolerant and accepting of Islam, she is disappointed that Andover does not actively help her continue her practice of Islam on campus.

“It was a struggle at first to find time to do all of these [Islam] practices because [although] everyone [at Andover] is very accommodating… a lot of the time I found that I had to go out and ask for help to continue these practices rather than them doing that to me. I felt that that was one of the hardest things for me, and my [Junior] year… those five minute breaks when all of my friends thought I was going to go to the bathroom were actually to go pray in the corner of the library. I think that part of the problem was me being afraid of those around me and also Andover not openly helping students continue their religious practices,” said Illikkal.

In looking at the example of France, Wardell said he hopes his presentation will inspire dialogue on the value of multiculturalism at Andover. “I think most students here accept diversity. However, they don’t consider what comes next. They are content with looking past difference and I think that’s the dominant culture [at Andover]. I hope my talk challenged that paradigm and got people to think about why looking past and ignoring difference doesn’t work,” said Wardell.

Sponsored by the Office of Community & Multicultural Development, the CAMD Scholar program, established in 2006, allows selected students to pursue independent summer research projects related to diversity, multiculturalism, community or identity under the guidance of a faculty advisor.