Skip to comments.The Crescent and the Tricolor: Islamic influence in France (MUST READ)
Posted on 03/23/2003 4:17:45 PM PST by nwrep
A superb dissertation which explains the pro-Islam, anti-American attitudes prevalent in France.
The Crescent and the Tricolor
France today has more Muslims than practicing Catholics, and couscous has arguably become the country's national food
by Christopher Caldwell
WHEN, two days before Bastille Day in 1998, the French national soccer team upset Brazil 3-0 to win the World Cup, a million people staged an impromptu parade on the Champs-Elysées. Within days it had become a cliché to call it the most important demonstration since the liberation of Paris from the Germans, in 1944. It was a celebration less of French sports than of French society -- and of immigration's role in that society. As people poured into the streets from all corners of the capital and the country, it became clear what a multiracial society France had become. About 13 percent of the population is immigrant, but the percentage in Paris is much higher. Tens of thousands of blacks and tens of thousands of Asians and hundreds of thousands of Arabs were in the streets along with native-born whites, who call themselves français de souche ("root French"). They were celebrating a team that included players born in Ghana and Guadeloupe. And they were celebrating especially the brilliant midfielder Zinédine Zidane, born in Marseille of Algerian parents, who had scored two goals in France's triumph.
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"The backlash," by Carl Honor (December 8, 1998)
| Zidane had been suspended three weeks earlier for one of the dirtiest fouls in World Cup memory. But now he was living proof that France was great because France was welcoming. In the coming months a leading French novelist would write Zidane: The Novel of a Victory, and President Jacques Chirac would award Zidane and his teammates the Légion d'honneur. As a Frenchman boasted afterward, "Germany's full of Turks -- and there's not a single Turk on the German football team." People marked a changing attitude toward immigrants in general and Arabs in particular, and named it the Zidane effect. It resembled the way certain backers of a Colin Powell run for the presidency in 1996 came to feel about race -- suddenly viewing as solved something they'd previously thought of as a remedy-defying problem, and feeling good about themselves as a result.
But the comparison can be misleading. Generally speaking, it's a smaller problem than the American race problem. Beurs are less visibly different, discrimination against them tends to be on the basis of class rather than race, and when they assimilate into society (or make a pile of money), they're French, period. But in one respect it's a more serious problem, because differences of religion are involved. Islam envisions an Islamic state to protect its rights. France, meanwhile, has one of the most stringent legal separations of Church and State in the world. This creates constant conflict between a state based on the Rights of Man and a religion that, strictly interpreted, holds that all legitimate political power flows from the Koran.
| From the archives:
"What Is the Koran?", by Toby Lester (January 1999)
"Female Circumcision Comes to America," by Linda Burstyn (October 1995)
| The excellent halal (the Islamic equivalent of kosher) butchers who have brought first-rate meat to the poorest neighborhoods have been an outright windfall for French culture. Other imports -- such as the female-circumcision rites practiced by certain African Muslim immigrants -- are so repugnant to French sensibilities that they have been outlawed. Still others are allowed but tie the country in knots. Since the late 1980s the question of whether Muslim girls should be allowed to wear their traditional scarves to school has come up year after year, in a way that might seem irrational unless one considers the role of French schools as "mills of citizenship" -- and not just of citizenship but of Frenchness. The Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, first made his reputation as Education Secretary with anguished soul-searching on the headscarf question.
But the latest wave of immigration threatens to change what Frenchness means. Islam has left Protestantism and Judaism far behind and is now the second religion of France. No official national statistics are kept on religion and race in France (the country, with its long tradition of equality of citizens before the state, holds such distinctions -- officially, at least -- to be meaningless), but the best estimates of the country's Interior Ministry put France's Muslim population at four million, two million of them French citizens. The historian Alain Besançon has estimated that given the meager rates of churchgoing in France (below five percent), the country now has more Muslims than practicing Catholics. In 1994 Le Monde found that 27 percent of Muslims were believing and practicing -- which means that Islam may someday be the country's predominant religion if one measures by the number of people who practice it.
But Islam's weight in France is even greater than that, particularly for the generation to come. For one thing, immigrants and their descendants are concentrated in a few important cities and regions (Paris, Marseille, Rhône-Alpes, Lille-Roubaix-Tourcoing). For another, although France's non-Muslim population has replaced itself at roughly the Western European rate of 1.3 births per woman, immigrants from Islamic countries have been three to four times as fertile for quite some time. The birth rate among Algerian women was 4.4 in 1981 and 3.5 in 1990. That among Moroccans was 5.8 and 3.5 in those years, and among Tunisians 5.1 and 4.2. These numbers do show natality declining toward the national average, but only slowly. Meanwhile, the disparity in birth rates and the concentration of the Muslim population means that in certain French metropolises a new generation of citizens -- those born from the 1970s to the 1990s -- is one third Muslim.
IN some places France already looks like a Muslim country. One of these places is La Bricarde, a cluster of semi-public low-income apartment towers built in the early seventies at the far northern edge of Marseille. This is part of the Bricarde-Castellane-Plan d'Aou complex, where 8,300 of the poorest people in France live, and where Zinédine Zidane grew up. A quarter of Marseille's population of 800,000 is Muslim, and La Bricarde is a mixture of North African exoticism and Continental decadence. Lotto tickets are the most popular commodity in the rinky-dink variety store that serves the complex. On a fall day recently, in the blistering heat of the central courtyard, a teen-age girl in a tight black sweater walked with two pregnant friends past an old lady in a djellaba. Satellite dishes run up the sides of the towers like buttons on a shirt. There are 700 apartments in La Bricarde, and at least 200 dishes, all of them aimed skyward to pick up signals from Africa: France has one of the least developed cable networks in Western Europe, and Algerian television can't be picked up there except by satellite. Rock bluffs reminiscent of Arizona loom behind the towers. On several hot summer nights in recent years the residents of La Bricarde have staged their own spectacular variant on Strasbourg's rodeo, stealing cars from the city below, setting them on fire, and launching them from the bluffs.
"The future of the city is in north Marseille," says Didier Bonnet, the long-haired and dashing director of the Régie Services Nord Littoral, a social-service organization founded in 1988 to serve the housing projects at Marseille's northern edge. Bonnet also has clients in the center city, but La Bricarde is the focus of almost all of his work, and it worries him. "Unemployment is twenty percent in Marseille," he says, "and fifty percent in certain neighborhoods. This is one of those certain neighborhoods." A quarter mile from La Bricarde is a five-year-old shopping center that is one of the largest in Europe. It was built with government help, on the condition that the store owners hire half their employees from the projects nearby. But the residents have begun to drift back into unemployment. Still, some business gets done. Nordine Taguelmint, who lives in La Bricarde and works for Bonnet, shouted "Journaliste!" to reassure a cluster of four alarmed-looking North Africans whom we interrupted in the middle of what looked like a dope deal as we came down a hill behind the projects. A hundred yards farther on Taguelmint pointed out a brand-new Porsche 911 Carrera, owned by a resident of the project.
Juliette Minces, a sociologist who studies Muslim women, reports that a progressive "ethnicization" of these housing blocks is under way. They have become associated with particular ethnic groups -- Senegalese here, Algerians there -- much the way that American public housing became associated with blacks and Hispanics in the fifties, sixties, and seventies. The residents of Marseille's projects are mostly Muslim, and a majority of them come from the Maghreb region of North Africa. Taguelmint estimates the population of La Bricarde at 60 percent foreign. Of the remainder, 25 percent are beurs and 10 percent are French blacks. Only about twenty white families are left in the projects, and all of them, Taguelmint says, feel trapped and bitter. Asked how many belong to the hard-right National Front, he replied, "All of them." All of them? He thought for a minute and revised his opinion: "No fewer than fifteen."
Claude Bertrand, the chief of staff to Marseille's mayor, admits that a succession of Socialist mayors bought a degree of social peace with ethnic sorting. "Not so much as it looked," he told me, but he grants that it happened. He assumes that such segregation will be undone in the natural course of things, primarily by the influence of television. (Other observers assert that by relying on this most American and global of media to assimilate newcomers, France risks solving its ethnic problems by dissolving its own culture -- for natives and newcomers alike.) Bertrand is unworried about the National Front, viewing its supporters as basically the same bloc -- the petits blancs, the white lumpenproletariat -- that voted Communist throughout the Cold War. In this he's right. He thinks the best way to defuse the group is by increasing employment.
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"Vivre et Survivre au Bord des Villes," by Michel Peraldi (1996)
| As the Marseille sociologist Michel Peraldi points out, though, trying to thwart an anti-immigrant movement by increasing employment is self-contradictory. Immigration to Marseille is actually relatively low right now. Immigrants flock to places that are growing, and today's growth is elsewhere, and in high tech -- "le capitalisme cognitif," as Peraldi puts it. Growth like that exists in the region -- in Aix-en-Provence, for instance, which in two decades has been transformed from a sleepy tourist village into a bobo mini-metropolis of 135,000 people. But Marseille is a city that the rich flee, so most of its growth is in the outlying areas. This is anomalous. The majority of French cities are rich, orderly, and right-wing; it's the suburbs that are impoverished, overcrowded, and violent. Marseille is the only big city in France that follows the U.S. model: its center is poorer than its periphery. So Marseille functions like New York (a comparison that Bertrand makes proudly) -- but New York in the 1970s. Older-generation politicians see poverty, crime, maladjustment, and alienation, and trying to come up with a solution they think "government." The top employer in Marseille is the national government, with 14,000 workers. The No. 2 employer is the municipality, with 12,000.
(The online version of this article appears in two parts. Click here to go to part two.)
(Excerpt) Read more at theatlantic.com ...
These jerks can go back to their sand dunes. And I think its about time we used some of our nuclear technology, combined with some new hydrogen car fuel technology we need to develop, to put these idiots out of work.
Let us make oil worthless except to power antique cars.
...the kernel of the problem.
"It's wrong to say that France has a single unique culture," he said. "In fact, the National Front is the movement in France that best defends multiculturalism. Let me explain. In your country especially there is a sort of destructive cultural imperialism, a global standardization of behavior, consumption, habits of thought, economic philosophy, that is causing European peoples to lose their identity. In defending our national identity we are protecting difference against standardization. The Islamic people loses its identity through the same process. We hope Muslims keep their roots, and don't try to integrate at the expense of them."
Lagane admitted that globalization has its merits. He should: he wears a stylish tattersall shirt, smokes Marlboro Lights, and does his writing on a brand-new Macintosh G3 laptop. (In fact, he left the Front just weeks after our talk, to start his own dot-com company.)"We're not against globalization," he said. "We're against a globalism that destroys the family and the nation." Certainly the National Front has changed since the early 1980s, when it tried to mix Reagan-Thatcher capitalism with a vociferous opposition to the then-prevalent high levels of immigration. The turning point seems to have been the Gulf War, in 1991, even today a staple of Le Pen's oratory, after which the movement adopted a virulently anti-capitalist stance and began to rail against American "imperialism," both economic and cultural. The new National Front seems to view Arabs as natural allies in a struggle against globalism, which it has traditionally viewed as American and Jewish. The Front is not against Israel, Lagane said (rather implausibly), only against its role, in cooperation with America, as policeman in the Middle East; what's more, he was heartened that "the Jewish community is evolving: it's now less viscerally led by left-wing Jews." He sounded almost like an old-style anti-American in his assurances that "the National Front has no quarrel with the American people."