When banking and finance show the path towards Multiculturalism

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Not long ago it was considered an absurdity to think of the possibility of seeing some of the European institutions adapting themselves to the want of the Muslims living in the European Union. I remember having been violently criticized when suggesting this possibility in a PhD thesis three years ago. The simple thought of such thing happening in a near future was compared with a form of islamisation of society. I have been myself accosted by many French people who ignoring my religious point of view did not hesitate to criticize Britain over the changes of its cultural landscape during the last decades. I even remember having first heard the term “Londonistan” in Paris. The term was used by a neighbour of mine as a criticism of British multiculturalism.

In France the changes of the French cultural landscape due to the presence of North and sub-Saharan Africans were first noticed and described by Jean Marie Lepen. In the late ninetieth, only he dared give such analysis of the cultural changes occurring in the French society. Through the use of the term “arabisation of the French society”, he evoked the possibility -because of a large number of Arab people living in France- of having progressively the Arab culture and values adopted as an integrated part of the French cultural landscape. What Jean Marie Lepen probably meant through the term Arabisation was certainly a degree of islamisation of the larger society. It is indeed important to mention that the two terms –Arab and Muslim- are often used interchangeably in France while every expert on the subject knows that not every Muslim is an Arab and not every Arab is a Muslim.

Sure, Jean Marie Lepen’s analysis was regarded

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as an absurdity at the time, but it seems that time is now giving such theory its true rights. No sociologist will contest or deny the fact that national cultures and identity are generally shaped, to a large extent, by the people living in the country.

Everyone remembers a Framprix franchise being severely criticised in 2002 for not selling alcohol and pork meat. Today the deal has somehow changed with more and more companies and businesses targeting exclusively the Muslim community. Most experts in marketing do recognise the opportunity there is in targeting what has become known as halal business or market. A month ago, a Quick restaurant Franchise in the Lille region was making the front page of most newspapers for providing halal food only. If some

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associations criticised the initiative, some few voices were however also heard in a support of the idea. Politicians from the main political parties openly claimed that there was nothing striking or disturbing in this commercial initiative.

The last few weeks have also been marked with debates taking place in Paris over how to attract capitals from the Muslim countries of the Gulf Region. The last financial crisis has somehow revealed that countries that had adopted the Shariah economic system were most likely to be immune against downturn and bankruptcy. It was even possible to read in many French newspapers in 2008 the following statement: “with the financial crisis, we ask ourselves if the foundations of Islamic finance could not constitute a reform of the world finance. (http://lexpressiondz.com/article/2/2008-11-03/57600.html)

There is no doubt today that France seems at last to be more open for a debate on Islamic business and banking; however, the only disappointing point here still remains the fact that contrary to investment banking, retail banking in France does not seem to be included yet in the actual debates going on at Bercy.