French Identity – the Impossible Debate

The French have been asked to debate on what being French is when what they really want to talk about is what being French is not: Muslim.

The debate has been made impossible for two reasons. The first is the ruling conservatives launched their debate in a bid to regain far right wing voters they took from the National Front in 2007 but have since lost. This political maneuvering meant there could be no sincere debate and as it is putting wind in the sails of the Extreme Right with three months to go until Regional elections, many members of the Presidential majority are demanding the debate be ended.

The second reason is the Left refuse any debate at all saying it splits the French. If you use the catch works Muslim, Arab, North Africa or African, you are called a “racist”. The sentence which follows is racism in France is a crime.*

So either you spend your time defending yourself against charges of racism or you beat around the bush in the debate or you don’t debate at all.

The reality is in France a large part of the community from immigration does not identify with the country and these people are not from the post-WW II waves of Spanish, Portuguese or Italian immigrants.

The question is about Muslims in France and their place. ** The first question which needs to be answered is whether Islam is a religion, an ideology or an identity?

Most Muslims in France practice their religion like ethnic French who take long week ends at Christmas, Easter and All Saints. The Muslims will fast during Ramadan and slaughter a lamb and have long night-time parties. However, I have seen a growing presence of young French born Muslims at Friday prayers with beards and traditional Arab dress.

There are many ideologies in Islam from al Qaeda to moderate equal rights activists. It would be wrong to underestimate the effect Jihadists are having on French Muslim youth. An anti-French, anti-European and to put it bluntly anti-White Christian attitude is often out spoken by the youth. But this may have more to do with the third question than the first two.

Islam is becoming more and more an identity opposed to the ethnic French by the disinherited Muslim youth in over-crowded projects. On the evening of 9-11 I saw dozens of youth running around the streets of Paris brandishing Xeroxed photos of Ben Laden. Of course, somebody made all the copies and distributed them to the youth which shows radical Islam has active cells in France, but the youth would be hard put to describe al Qaeda’s ideology. They were happy because the United States was attacked.

The French secular state, or Laïcité, was created after the Dreyfus affair 100 years ago and was meant to keep the Catholic Church out of politics. But how do you adapt it to Sunni Islam which has no centralized hierarchy. Every attempt to form a Muslim council in France in order for the government to have somebody to talk with has ended either in failure, because the ‘leaders’ have no control over the flock, or it has been used by radicals to have a greater say in French society demanding Muslim ‘traditions’ such as the Veil be respected.

French Muslims often chose to stay apart. Compared to other immigrants, there is very little inter-marriage with ethnic French although it is impossible to know the exact number. The daily violence carried out by Muslim youth in France is directed against the property of ethnic French (burning cars, aggressing ‘white’ youth) and their insults tend to be anti-ethnic French such as “dirty French whore”.

The French have no need to feel guilty. They have provided the immigrants with a welfare system they could not have dreamed of in their countries of origin: free education, total health care, family allotments to have children, direct money payments for the unemployed, subsidized housing, free job training … It is sure they have taken much more out of the welfare system than they ever put into it. (Along the lines of Denmark where immigrants make up 5% of the population but receive 40% of the Welfare).

So why have they not ‘assimilated’ like other waves of immigrants? Why are they stigmatized by an ethnic French population who not only see them as ungrateful, but as a threat to their culture? And what is that culture?

The internet site set up by Minister of Immigration and National Identity, Eric Besson, brings few answers. You can read being French is “loving the country, its history and its culture”. I love France, its history and culture but I am not French. Others say it “means obeying the laws”. I have to obey the laws in every country I go to. That is why they are laws. Yet, I am still an American.

Going into Islam itself is out of the scope of this piece (I may come to it in another essay). The fact remains, the lack of integration in France causing problems is “Muslim”, so the question of any debate has to allow for both sides to discuss it. And the ethnic French, who were never asked if they wanted the immigrants in the first place, have a right to refuse to see their culture change to ‘adapt’ to those the country welcomed.

Muslims too need to have this debate so it becomes clear to them why they are in France and what that means. Making a real debate impossible for whatever reason will not clear the air. Worse, if nothing is done, there could be much more violence down the road. If that happens, what is today considered an “immigration problem” will find itself converted into a “clash of civilizations”.


* Yes, in France, racism, anti-Semitism and other ‘hate thoughts’ concerning Gays and women are a criminal act which is sanctioned by a fine and prison. Even insulting your concierge can lead to six months in jail and a 3500 euro fine.

** It is impossible to know how many there are, where they originate from or how they even identify themselves because those questions are against French law and therefore not included in any census. You are French or you are not.