Will France lose its secularism? Will its secularism change?
Yes it will, according to our President, Nicolas Sarkozy. In a speech to foreign diplomats in Paris today, he outlined his plans on climate change, diplomacy, defence, the Middle East, Iran, yaddah yaddah yaddah. And religion.
Taking a quote from the French writer, activist & politician André Malraux, Sarkozy said "the 21st Century will be religious or it won't be".
"One of the challenges is that of the conditions for the return of religion in most of our societies," he said. "It's an inescapable reality. Only the sectarians cannot see it."
The difficulty, he said, was ensuring that a religious revival did not come in the form of fundamentalist, closed and exclusive faiths.
"In my speech at Saint John Lateran, I explained my idea of a secularism which the place of religion would be defined in more positive terms. In front of the Consultative Council of Saudi Arabia, in Riyadh this week, I echoed the words of the wise King Abdullah, and advocated the idea of an open tolerance of religion"
Sarkozy triggered a political furore in France this week when he suggested on a visit to Saudi Arabia that religion should hold a bigger place in the social and political life of his own, officially secular country.
In a speech in Riyadh, he mentioned God 21 times, and on a visit to the Vatican last month he celebrated France’s “essentially Christian” roots. Mr Sarkozy’s declaration prompted his political opponents to accuse the president of failing to respect the constitution, which prohibits public displays of religious affiliation.
Mr Sarkozy, an occasionally practising Catholic, later insisted he was not proselytising, discriminating against France’s 5m Muslims or attacking its secular tradition, but advocating a more tolerant “positive” secularism at home.
Promoting tolerance abroad would also become a priority of his foreign policy, he said. “Perhaps more than the struggle for democracy, it is the struggle for diversity, for openness and tolerance, for the acceptance of difference, which seems to me fundamental,” he said.
Mr Sarkozy said his drive for mutual religious tolerance was one of four new approaches shaping his foreign policy.