Saturday, June 2, 2007


Eight historians associated with the National Center for Immigration History have resigned to protest Pres. Sarkozy's creation of a Ministry of Immigration and National Identity. Here is an interview with Gérard Noiriel about their decision. Below is the manifesto signed by the resigning advisors:

*Immigration and National Identity: An Unacceptable Linkage*

* *

Since 2003, we have participated in the development of the National Center for Immigration History. The inspiration for this Center, a key new French historical resource expected to open later this year, came about following the 2002 Presidential election, and the rejection of the drift towards xenophobic politics that election represented. The Center hopes to change the perspective modern society has on immigration, by reminding our contemporaries that over the past two centuries subsequent periods of immigration have helped develop, transform, and benefit France as a whole. By accepting and understanding the diversity of histories as well as individual and collective memories in France, by bringing together a history for /everyone/, including both the proud and shameful moments, will help overcome stereotypes and preconceived notions. This is what is at stake and this is what inspired us to undertake this project.

The creation of a “Ministry of Immigration and National Identity” calls these objectives into question. In politics, words serve as symbols and they serve as weapons. It is not the responsibility of a democratic state to define “identity.” Associating “immigration” and “national identity” in a common ministry has no precedent in the history of the French Republic: [it is by a founding act of the new presidency, defining immigration as a “problem” for France and for the French in their being.

The association of these issues is interwoven in a broader discourse that stigmatizes immigration, and in a historical tradition of a nationalism based on a distrust and hostility toward “foreigners,” particularly in times of crisis. Whereas the goal of the National Center for Immigration History was to bring people together, with a focus on the future, around a common history that everyone would feel comfortable making their own, in contrast this Ministry would create a division and polarization which history has shown the ravages.

Therefore, we resign effective immediately from our official responsibilities with the National Center for Immigration History. Nonetheless, we would like to acknowledge the remarkable work accomplished over the past three years by Jacques Toubon and his entire team. We were associated with this project in a spirit of intellectual liberty and independence. We will continue to support it as long as its founding spirit lasts.

Marie-Claude Blanc-Chaléard, Historian, Paris1
Geneviève Dreyfus-Armand, Historian, BDIC
Nancy L. Green, Historian, EHESS
Gérard Noiriel, Historian, EHESS
Patrick Simon, Demographer, INED
Vincent Viet, Historian, IDHE
Marie-Christine Volovitch-Tavarès, Historian
Patrick Weil, Historian, CNRS-Paris1


Anonymous said...

One thing that's interesting about this ministry is all the different functions it's supposed to bring together: le co-développement, la coopération, l'immigration, l'intégration et l'identité nationale.

Leaving aside for the moment the problematic concept of a “national identity” as a static thing, or the fact that it's not at all obvious what a “ministry of national identity” does, why pull “cooperation” and “co-développement” away from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs? Especially now that Kouchner, who actually has some real-world experience with poverty in the less-developed world, is running it? To put these two sub-fields in the same ministry as “immigration” and “national identity” does seem to send a message. Since co-développement and cooperation are aimed at preventing immigration, this ministry might as well be called the “prevention of immigration” ministry. Except we know that Sarkozy favors “selective” immigration, such as of high-tech workers. And then where does the “intégration” part fit it? Sarkozy has made pretty clear that he’s not interested in broad-scale “régularisation” (legalization of status), but it’s hard to imagine how any one can hope for inclusion in a society without some modicum of legal security.

So, one’s left wondering what Sarkozy’s objective is with this ministry. Is he trying to reassure that sector of the population that *does* think national identity is static, and that sees itself, with Jean-Marie Le Pen, as coming from the “terroir” and thus “more French” than those who are from former French “territories” or elsewhere? During the campaign, Sarkozy defended himself against Le Pen’s insinuations that he was “too foreign” to be considered truly French. As in so many domains, Sarkozy may be playing a cynical double-game here. But to my mind, it’s a less coherent maneuver than much of his other political gamesmanship.

- Mary D. Lewis

Unknown said...

"Co-operation" and "codevelopment" are, I believe, code words for "foreign policy as it relates to former French colonies in Africa." Under both Mitterrand and Chirac, this was a "reserved domain" of the presidency, separate from the rest of French foreign policy. There are some good reasons for this--these societies are more deeply impregnated by the French presence--and some bad reasons--rich opportunities for corruption among them. Hortefeux was given responsibility for this presidential preserve because he is a Sarko intimate, a trusted lieutenant.

I have no doubt that the "cynical double game" that Mary mentions is being played with the new ministry, and she's also right that the strategy is less coherent here than in other areas. Is the resignation of 8 scholars likely to inflect the policy? Probably not. But this is one of the areas in which vigilance needs to be highest, so it's worth noting that some of France's leading students of immigration don't like what they see.

Anonymous said...

Art is of course right that "co-operation" and "co-development" were special domains of the French presidency before, so not fully under the direction of the Minister of Foreign Affairs. What's different here, however, is the *combination* of domains traditionally falling under the rubric of "foreign policy" (or "Francophonie" - another code word for relations with former colonial territories) with functions that belong traditionally to the Ministries of the Interior, Labor, Social Affairs, and so forth. This bizarre mixture contributes to the incoherence of the new ministry. But we'll have to wait and see what, if anything, it can accomplish.

Mary D. Lewis