For democracy and laicité

I’ve been wondering lately why France is having such a hard time dealing with immigration and multiculturalism. When I compare my country with England, where I lived last year, I see all the many differences that oppose them. Sure, England is no saint, it has its issues as well, especially lately regarding alleged police racism. But what stroke me is the way it deals with “ex-colonies” citizens. When I look at England, I think of the cultural and religious diversity at Universities, or at the Sikh policemen who proudly wear their turban, and most importantly, are allowed to. But when I look at France, all I think about is the law that bans wearing ostentatious religious signs in public schools (and which clearly focuses on the Muslim veil, let’s face it) or the headscarf ban that was implemented last year and that forbids all full headscarf public wearing.
For democracy and laicité, says the French state. For the greater good of the French Republic. Greater good, you said? What greater good?

Liberté, égalité, fraternité, proclaims the national motto of the République française. Would this be equality, then? Ensuring to shape all citizens in the same French image, thus banning all foreign signs? But then, why do French people have a problem with Blacks and Arabs but not with, say Asians and Latinos?

It’s been decades, very long and painful decades, that France has split up with its colonies. And yet, it feels like it has never really parted from them, that the problems the French state faced at that time are still very much alive. The relation France has with its ex-colonies is tricky. First, because of the way decolonization happened: in the unwillingness to let them go which triggered a bloodshed; second, because of the relation France feels it mandatory to maintain, and of the French ghost that continues to hover above each of its ex-colonies. Having no idea how to deal with the mass of ex-colonies immigrants that settled in the country, the French state then thought it best to put everyone in the same traditional French boat so as to avoid clashes.
But the trick is that the issue doesn’t lie in immigration per se: it lies in the aftermath of the decolonization process. Precisely I believe it lies in the resentment and hate that the French have towards ex-colonies citizens who moved there. Arriving en-masse in the late 60s, they settled at the peripheries of the big cities and re-formed what they had left behind: the typical bled (the hometown). Speaking their language, living their religion, eating their food, doing their business, this complete new way of life shocked die-hard French. Quickly then, immigrants from ex-colonies were targeted by the police, were accused of stealing jobs from the French, and were pushed away into “modern” ghettos, those huge areas of high-rise blocks of council flats. Sadly but quite logically, it created fierce reaction among them, which led to more hate from both sides.

Years have passed, Presidents followed one another, and yet nothing has changed. French-born people still refuse to acknowledge other cultures and religions, and fear the Black/Arab youth while the latter feel rejected and out of the society. Yet, I believe things could be changed. I mean, I just don’t see how the actual situation – everyone on the same level of laicité – does any good to France: it gives less freedom to people who “physically” practice their religion, which leads to more frustration and tensions; it triggers a false feeling of legitimacy among French-born people, who feel they have more rights than ex-colonies citizens; this to only demonstrate the supremacy of the traditional Christian France over any other kind. But why couldn’t Muslim wear their own clothes, why couldn’t they practice freely their religion (i.e. street prayers) and speak their own language? I’m sure most of the people find it shocking and disturbing to see an Arabic girl wearing the hijab. But would they be as shocked to see an Indonesian girl wearing it?

My point is, French people have bore so much grudge in the past decades because of the mass-immigration from the ex-colonies that it has genuinely become a natural thing to distrust and suspect all Blacks and Arabs. You think I’m wrong? Then why do Blacks or Arabs always get their identity checked in the metro, whereas other foreign-origin (I won’t even talk about White) people don’t? It all comes down to that. It is all these historical causes that are responsible for the current plagues that hit France. And it is certainly not a divergence of religion, culture or language (as the French don’t mind Pakistanis or Chinese for instance) but a divergence of power: they colonized and now, in a certain way, they are colonized.

But the French should know by now (thankfully some do) that their country is not a one-religion one-culture state anymore. It has and still is evolving toward a multicultural and multi-religion state that, if only tolerance and equality weren’t missing, would set a wonderful example for the rest of the world. So let’s only hope that the new President will bring winds of change in France, so as to put the past behind, at last.

I’ve been wondering lately why France is having such a hard time dealing with immigration and multiculturalism. When I compare my country with England, where I lived last year, I see all the many differences that oppose them. Sure, England is no saint, it has its issues as well, especially lately regarding alleged police racism. But what stroke me is the way it deals with “ex-colonies” citizens. When I look at England, I think of the cultural and religious diversity at Universities, or at the Sikh policemen who proudly wear their turban, and most importantly, are allowed to. But when I look at France, all I think about is the law that bans wearing ostentatious religious signs in public schools (and which clearly focuses on the Muslim veil, let’s face it) or the headscarf ban that was implemented last year and that forbids all full headscarf public wearing.
For democracy and laicité, says the French state. For the greater good of the French Republic. Greater good, you said? What greater good?

Liberté, égalité, fraternité, proclaims the national motto of the République française. Would this be equality, then? Ensuring to shape all citizens in the same French image, thus banning all foreign signs? But then, why do French people have a problem with Blacks and Arabs but not with, say Asians and Latinos?

It’s been decades, very long and painful decades, that France has split up with its colonies. And yet, it feels like it has never really parted from them, that the problems the French state faced at that time are still very much alive. The relation France has with its ex-colonies is tricky. First, because of the way decolonization happened: in the unwillingness to let them go which triggered a bloodshed; second, because of the relation France feels it mandatory to maintain, and of the French ghost that continues to hover above each of its ex-colonies. Having no idea how to deal with the mass of ex-colonies immigrants that settled in the country, the French state then thought it best to put everyone in the same traditional French boat so as to avoid clashes.
But the trick is that the issue doesn’t lie in immigration per se: it lies in the aftermath of the decolonization process. Precisely I believe it lies in the resentment and hate that the French have towards ex-colonies citizens who moved there. Arriving en-masse in the late 60s, they settled at the peripheries of the big cities and re-formed what they had left behind: the typical bled (the hometown). Speaking their language, living their religion, eating their food, doing their business, this complete new way of life shocked die-hard French. Quickly then, immigrants from ex-colonies were targeted by the police, were accused of stealing jobs from the French, and were pushed away into “modern” ghettos, those huge areas of high-rise blocks of council flats. Sadly but quite logically, it created fierce reaction among them, which led to more hate from both sides.

Years have passed, Presidents followed one another, and yet nothing has changed. French-born people still refuse to acknowledge other cultures and religions, and fear the Black/Arab youth while the latter feel rejected and out of the society. Yet, I believe things could be changed. I mean, I just don’t see how the actual situation – everyone on the same level of laicité – does any good to France: it gives less freedom to people who “physically” practice their religion, which leads to more frustration and tensions; it triggers a false feeling of legitimacy among French-born people, who feel they have more rights than ex-colonies citizens; this to only demonstrate the supremacy of the traditional Christian France over any other kind. But why couldn’t Muslim wear their own clothes, why couldn’t they practice freely their religion (i.e. street prayers) and speak their own language? I’m sure most of the people find it shocking and disturbing to see an Arabic girl wearing the hijab. But would they be as shocked to see an Indonesian girl wearing it?

My point is, French people have bore so much grudge in the past decades because of the mass-immigration from the ex-colonies that it has genuinely become a natural thing to distrust and suspect all Blacks and Arabs. You think I’m wrong? Then why do Blacks or Arabs always get their identity checked in the metro, whereas other foreign-origin (I won’t even talk about White) people don’t? It all comes down to that. It is all these historical causes that are responsible for the current plagues that hit France. And it is certainly not a divergence of religion, culture or language (as the French don’t mind Pakistanis or Chinese for instance) but a divergence of power: they colonized and now, in a certain way, they are colonized.

But the French should know by now (thankfully some do) that their country is not a one-religion one-culture state anymore. It has and still is evolving toward a multicultural and multi-religion state that, if only tolerance and equality weren’t missing, would set a wonderful example for the rest of the world. So let’s only hope that the new President will bring winds of change in France, so as to put the past behind, at last.

Photo: Courtesty of Cécile Viault

Cécile Viault, France, Member of ThinkYoung’s Writing Team

Cécile is a MA Graduate in International Politics and East Asia from the University of Warwick. She previously holds a Master’s Degree in Business and Development from the ESCD 3A, in Lyon, France. She decided to specialise on the Geopolitics of East Asia so as to complete her education and to obtain a more accurate vision on the East Asian issues, linking economic decisions of states and geopolitical matters altogether. Cécile is a passionate photographer and is always looking for new fields of interest. She regularly writes for The Graduate Times and ThinkYoung.
Cecile’s writings by visiting her blog at www.thelivinginterlace.wordpress.com

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