Ramadan Alla Français
Muriel Domenach*Last year, a Turkish newspaper ran on its front page a “Fransiz devrimi [French revolution]” headline as we announced we would have an iftar and jazz concert at the Palais de France in Istanbul. This year, the happily surprised “öyle mi? Ne güzel! [Really? How lovely!]” reaction to this first turned into expectation that we should hold another “Ramazan gecesi [Ramadan night].”
Yes, as part of this year’s Jazz festival during Ramadan, we will again be holding an iftar followed by a jazz concert in the Palais de France garden on July 10.
Why is our “Nuit du Ramadan [Ramadan night]” having such impact?
One reason is probably that France and Turkey are the only countries in the world where issues of secularism are so hotly debated. It is even said that the Turkish word “laiklik” stems from the French, “laïcité.”
Meanwhile, French “laïcité” is often misunderstood. French secularism is neither one of exclusion nor ignoring religions. Far from being a civil religion, it is a modus operandi. “Laïcité” accommodates the state’s neutrality so as to ensure harmonious coexistence amongst believers of different religions and non-believers. Religious law cannot be invoked to contest civil law that citizens have given themselves through their own votes.
By no way is “laïcité” an obstacle to religious practice of either belief, including Islam, the second religion of France. Celebrating iftar in a diplomatic residence also comes as an acknowledgement that Islam is now rooted in France and widely accepted. “Bon Ramadan” (“Good Ramadan”) has become a French expression amongst and to our Muslim compatriots, as we are developing an “Islam de France [Islam of France.]”
This year, like his predecessor did last year, our Minister for Foreign Affairs, Laurent Fabius, will host the Islamic Organization Conference ambassadors for an iftar at the Quai d’Orsay, one day before our Ramazan gecesi. No doubt he will use the occasion to reiterate that, after the January attacks in France by Islamist terrorists and fears that they would feed confusion with Islam, the French authorities are genuinely tough on any discrimination or hate speech and acts, based on race or religion.
Recent studies show that French public opinion is not falling into the trap of Islamophobia. Those who reject Islam as incompatible with the values of the French Republic when polled in late January 2015 had declined by 50 percent, compared to 2013.
In this context, our Istanbul Ramazan gecesi, like the “Nuits du Ramadan” organized by the Paris city council and by French cultural services in Morocco, will give an example of fraternity and diversity.
Like last year, we will be hosting friends of different backgrounds at a traditional iftar, acknowledging the special atmosphere of Ramazan in a spirit of depolarization. My only concession to Frenchness on the menu will be the millefeuilles (meaning “1,000 leaves” in English) for dessert.
Like last year, our iftar guests will join the audience for the jazz concert after the meal, in keeping with ancient Ramadan traditions.
We thought the Ramadan spirit of fraternity would suit a specific musical encounter this year, with French jazzman André Manoukian of Armenian origin, Yarımdünya Hasan, Üstem Çembeli, Ahmet Özden, and Okay Temiz in a jam session: a symbol of openness and reconciliation in 2015. The French Embassy in Ankara will be hosting them the following evening (July 11) at its first ever Ramadan concert.
Finally, to those who regret that they will not be able to enjoy a glass of French wine at the Palais de France that evening, I paraphrase the Book of Ecclesiastes and reply that there is a time for everything: a time to drink and a time to refrain from drinking. Respect for believers on this occasion should not be seen as surrender. I look forward to raising a glass with them at the forthcoming Bastille Day on July 14 that will be celebrated in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.
Meanwhile, I wish everybody for whom it counts in one way or other a “bon Ramadan.”
*Muriel Domenach is the French Consul General in Istanbul.