Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Fichage?

Conveniently, Robert Ménard, mayor of Béziers and fellow traveler of the Front National, has opened himself to attacks for alleged fichage of schoolchildren because he said on TV that 64.6% of Béziers students were Muslims. But the fact that the mayor is linked to the FN merely forecloses debate and obscures the underlying issues.

Now, as regular readers know, I think there are reasonable grounds for the collection of certain ethnic statistics. What is problematic here is the term "Muslim," since the city has no idea whether a child with the first name "Mohammed" practices Islam or any other religion--and it needn't know. But it can be useful for educational planning to know, for example, what percentage of students speak French at home or have French-speaking parents. Staffing and resource decisions can be more intelligently made with such information than without it, and if it is not collected formally, it will very likely be collected informally by school officials. So one might as well be open about it. It seems to me problematic to make "republican" synonymous with "blind to social and cultural realities." But I know that many French friends will disagree with me.

6 comments:

FrédéricLN said...

This is a true "tempête dans un verre d'eau". Pupils are obviously recorded in many files (there is no new "fichage"), where their religion is not written: Robert Ménard himself says he, or his aiders, counted the first names, which may, in France, give a decent approximation of the proportion of the Muslim community — at least in the US meaning of "community".

And why should a Mayor deliberately ignore the raw distribution of pupils in his town according to religion?

Imho, this anger about "muslim figures" exemplifies a difficulty within French society to accept muslims as a group. That someone prays Allay, no problem, it's about him or her. When it is about common interests or features between Muslims (or maybe too, between Christians), reservation spreads.

James Conran said...

Perhaps the mayor undertook this the better to arrange their "repas de substitution", which FN-run municipalities, setting a standard of liberalism and pragmatism one wishes Sarkozy would match, have apparently not challenged....

Mitch Guthman said...

I think James Conran’s wry observation reveals an important truth. Unless M. Ménard is thinking about a return to the 1905 law or perhaps even the Concordat of 1801, which would be fine with me, the number of Muslims in his community is none of his business. There are no social or cultural realities that create a need for such a head count and seeking to collect this information is a clear violation of the law. The State and all of its subdivisions are clearly forbidden from conducting such a survey and Ménard offers no legitimate reason for even looking at school or birth records to see if the number of Muslims can be deduced.

I rarely find myself in agreement with Manuel Valls but he is absolutely right to condemn this as something that is “contrary to all the values of the Republic” and which reveals the true face of the extreme right. The FN’s notions of republicanism and laïcité are obviously different from those of secularists such like me. This episode should put everyone who values laïcité on guard about the FN’s hidden intentions.

Arun Kapil said...

I entirely agree with Mitch's comment above, except maybe on being okay with a return to the 1801 Concordat; let's just stick with the 1905 law (in its Aristide Briand conception).

On Robert Ménard's démarche, it is, in addition to being insidious, stupid and ignorant, as this citizen points out
http://rue89.nouvelobs.com/2015/05/05/mappelle-jihad-allez-deviner-m-menard-origine-confessionnelle-259022

James Conran said...

Without in any way defending this particular individual's possibly illegal and probably ill-intended actions, are Mitch and Arun really saying that there are generally "no social or cultural realities that create a need" for ethno-religious statistics? Would Americans be better able to understand (and maybe one day deal with) their present social and cultural realities if they didn't know, for instance, that Ferguson, Missouri is a town with an overwhelmingly black population and a largely white police force, whereas Baltimore's police force is almost evenly split between black and white?

Alexandra Marshall said...

I am 300% in favor of collecting ethnic stats. When not used for assigning ethnic minorities to lower-tier educational tracks, as was insidiously the case in the Los Angeles USD (and probably still is but I don't live there anyore), all this does is help everyone get a grip on the current reality of multiculturalism, yes, even in France. These things are not salacious nor does it serve to sweep anything under the rug. I understand the principles behind the banning of such stats was originally egalitarian and well-intended. But in a post-colonial world, we need to know what's happening.