Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Knitting Up the Ravel'd Lien Républicain

Manuel Valls regrets that France has become an apartheid society:

Les émeutes de 2005, qui aujourd'hui s'en rappelle ? Et pourtant... les stigmates sont toujours présents », a-t-il souligné avant d'insister sur « la relégation périurbaine, les ghettos ».
Well, I, for one, remember the riots of 2005, and I have frequently regretted, including on this blog, how little political response ensued. Valls is to be applauded for facing the facts squarely today, but it cannot be said that this problem was a priority for his or his predecessor's government prior to the events of January 7 and 8.

In the same issue of Le Monde, the historian Benjamin Stora notes one sign of this de facto apartheid in the absence of young people from the banlieues in the great republican mass held on the Sunday after the killings. By way of explanation, he too invokes the riots of 2005 along with many other things:

Cette faible présence nous dit plusieurs choses. D’abord, la crise du lien républicain, crise installée depuis plus de dix ans. Et dix ans très exactement après les émeutes de 2005, la fracture ne s’est pas résorbée. On en connaît l’origine : l’effondrement des idéologies collectives, le refuge dans le religieux comme idéologie de substitution aux engagements naguère menés par les gauches (politiques ou syndicales), les retards pris dans le regard porté sur le passé colonial, les crises des sociétés de culture musulmane prises entre des Etats autoritaires et des oppositions islamistes, la tragédie terrible des événements algériens des années 1990 juste après la chute du mur de Berlin, etc. Ajoutons la montée de l’antisémitisme et l’aggravation de la crise économique, avec près de 4 millions de chômeurs…
But what exactly is this "crisis of the republican bond"  and this de facto apartheid? Perhaps it's the "republican" ideology itself that needs to be re-examined. Can immigrants and children of immigrants and grandchildren of immigrants integrate themselves into the fabric of French life if they can't organize as a community to demand their rights? "Everything to the Maghrebis as individuals, nothing to the Maghrebis as a nation"--Clermont-Tonnerre's promise to the Jews, mutatis mutandis--won't work today. Arguably, it didn't work for the Jews either: it took World War II to get them fully integrated, in compensation, as it were. North African immigrants have a different hurdle to overcome: they were and in some respects still are seen as a colonial people, an internal colony. What they need, as Stora suggests, is a civil rights movement to counter the tendency to take "refuge in the religious as a substitute ideology for [political and trade-union] commitments formerly led by the left." But such a movement would be immediately denounced as "communitarian" by the more zealous defenders of "republican values." So be it, I say. The experiment must be attempted. France needs a Martin Luther King.


Elab said...

Pourquoi pas un MLK français. Mais alors quel serait son objectif ? Si le "Civil Rights Movement" visait l'égalité des droits (de jure), alors, selon vous, son équivalent français tendrait donc plutôt vers l'égalité de fait (de facto) selon vous, n'est-ce pas ?
Mais cette inégalité apparaît de prime abord bien moins illégitime dans la mesure où le droit ne l'entérine pas... Ce qui rend d'autant plus improbable la constitution d'un tel mouvement.

brent said...

IMO it would be a mistake to equate MLK with the movement for de jure civil rights, though that was the first phase of his movement (up to 1965 or so). After that it was, as you suggest, about economic equality (of opportunity), which led to affirmative action policies, and the creation of a black middle class of some significance. Belgium just announced the launch of a program to train Muslim business executives--could officially race-blind France consider such a move?

What would a MLK figure look like in French terms? As a foreigner, I wouldn't try to say. I would note, though, that even the de jure Civil Rights phase of MLK's work was steeped in religion: the power of the Black Church, fundamentalist in many ways, was the bedrock of the movement. Driving sincere expressions of Islam from the public sphere may be the exactly wrong move.

Alexandra Marshall said...

This has always been my discomfort with France's official "race blindness," as Brent calls it. Not that the US, my home country, is a shining example of racial harmony and equality but we are comparatively so much better at at least discussing it, taking it on, making people aware of it, having a dialogue and (once upon a time) passing some laws.

I immigrated to France because it seems to me it places a greater value on human life than the US, and it is a saner place to invest my paltry sums and make a life for myself. But the inability to even acknowledge what is happening on the ethnic front because you cannot actually quantify it seems so misguided and to be so much a part of the problem. I feel the same way about the ban on the veil. In a 21st century postcolonial with a constant supply of images and communication, you can't erase differences under some very last-century idea of "republicanism." The Republic will stand only if it gets real about who its actual subjects are in all their diversity of experience and, yes, even faith.

I am clearly a product of 1970s California education but I see the rightness of it.

Elab said...

@brent : Thanks for your input.
Still, more than from a religious leader whose legacy seems to have faded, wouldn't it be better to take example from a country which has successfully managed interracial integration ? Even though I can't seem to find one except for the mythical Al-Andalus...

@Alexandra Marshall : IMO we don't allow ethnic statistics in France not so much because of our so-called "republicanism" but mainly because we don't believe there is such a thing as race. Statistics is a science and as such is considered to be"objective" whereas race is not and thus discarded for being too subjective a category. Hence we refuse to attribute an ethnicity to someone even if he claims it since identification is supposed to rely on hard facts.

That being said I agree with you there is much "pudibonderie" in the French stance. Nonetheless now doesn't feel like the right time to usefully open such a debate.

Aaron said...

I could have told M. Valls that was the case 10 years ago when I arrived in Paris, not long before the riots in 2005. AS you say, a shame that nobody thought it a priority before January 7. If Benjamen Stora refers to a "crise du lien républicain", I'm assuming he means that the French ruling class might be coming to the long-overdue realisation that liberté, egalité, fraternité is a myth that doesn't have much application to the everyday lives of a certain proportion of France's citizens especially in cities like Paris, and a proportion that's only getting bigger.

Mitch Guthman said...

To begin with, let’s be honest about the source of this apartheid of which Manuel Valls speaks. Europe wanted cheap labour but had no interest in acquiring burdensome new citizens. The cheap labour was a blessing for European economies trapped in the death spiral of globalization's race to the bottom. The immigrants were isolated and marginalized so that they would be out of sight, out of mind and out of everybody’s way and that’s the way it stayed until 2005 when the poverty, violence and toxic culture of the banlieues exploded into mainstream France.

For their part, thee immigrants wanted jobs, but nothing more. The Muslim immigrants at first came as guest workers. As globalization, mobility of capital, corruption and cronyism wrecked their societies, the trickle of guest workers became a flood of economic refugees. They certainly did not come to Europe for a new identity and adapting to Europe’s culture was never a part of the bargain.

Regrettably, the left’s contribution of “multiculturalism” to this toxic situation has only made things worse for everyone. The most conservative, most religious and most trial elements of the immigrants’s societies were lauded as the most “authentic” and were made the conduit through which the host societies would deal with the immigrants.

This contrasts very sharply with the way in which my great grandparents immigrated to America to build a new life for themselves and become Americans. Becoming Americans was a part of what America offered but also demanded. The new country offered immigrants a cleansing, a rebirth, a chance for a fresh start. But similarly there was the notion of America as a melting pot. The ideal of becoming an American required letting go of old loyalties and old ways of life.

The principles of the American melting pot were good. Without doubt, the implementation in my country has been far from perfect. No Jews, no Irish, no blacks was the rallying cry of the South and much of the WASP society throughout the country. But the desire on the part of African-Americans to be fully accepted is what MLK and the Civil Rights movement marched, bled, and often died to achieve.

As for what needs to be done now, I think Benjamin Stora makes many valid and important points. Undoubtedly, the response of the left to the riots of 2005 was woefully inadequate. That was the moment for an urgent discussion of how to remedy the physical isolation and cultural isolation and the discrimination against immigrants. This failure to do so have proven disastrous for everyone.

Nevertheless, it seem to me as if Stora is ultimately talking about doubling down on the failed policy of multiculturalism that is in no small part responsible for our situation. Although he professes to support républicanisme, his solution seems oddly disconnected from the promotion of républicain principles.

Perhaps I have lost something in the translation (which would be normal for me) but I do not really understand whose history and culture he thinks needs to be transmitted better to immigrants and, particularly, to the Beur community. He seems to be speaking not of a need for better, more accessible, teaching of French history and of the causes of the revolutions or for better transmission of French culture but instead of the need for better teaching of the history and culture of Islam and the Maghreb.

As an outsider looking in, I say that the problem is that there are two Frances where there needs to be only one. For me, the solution is integration and acceptance of the newcomers into a French society governed by républican principles, including the principle of laïcité which makes it possible for people of all faiths and none to share public spaces and participate harmoniously in civic life.

I just don’t understand how Prof. Stora’s approach would do anything except to drive everyone more deeply into their own communities.

Mary Campbell Gallagher, J.D., Ph.D. said...

What Mitch Guthman said. The American melting pot worked better for our grandparents, and it still works better today. We all knew, of course, who was Irish Catholic, who was Jewish and, when we spoke among ourselves, why our group was the best. But in the public sphere, we shared one language and the same standards of behavior.

Anonymous said...

France's economic migrant problem is the same explosive one seen all over the EU. The multicultural experiment has been declared failed, dead and buried by Merkel and Cameron (remarks later halfheartedly endorsed by Sarkozy because multikulti was never official French policy). The migrants are minorities in all these countries. The only sane policy is surely to ensure they are properly socialised into accepting the values, laws and cultures of the host countries which have welcomed them. Those in earlier generations who migrated to 'melting pot' US certainly accepted this (America: Love or Leave it!) Why should Europe make any exceptions? You come here you accept our way of life or you go elsewhere.

Alexandra Marshall said...

Yes but to Anon above, you can't really impose a certain way of being on people, especially when they're at an economic disadvantage. They have to feel somewhat welcome to go the distance. Reading all of the above discussion of the America of our grandparents... Well, in Los Angeles, where I grew up, there was no such happy melting pot. The Mexican and Central American immigrant communities have been the scapegoat of every problem in local politics, never mind that, like migrants to Europe, as Mitch mentions, they're in California to work for a pittance in (mostly) illegal agricultural, domestic and manufacturing jobs that no one else will or can do at illegally low wages.

In many ways I see this as the closest parallel to the North African immigrants in France. There's a lot of past historical karma between the France and the Maghreb, as there is between the US and everything that lays to its south, but especially Central America, where we've done some of our dirtiest covert work supporting the kind of violent dictators that impel local populations to get the hell out. Of course, America has done a much better job selling itself as a dream destination at the end of the rainbow, though there are rude awakenings once people arrive. But it's also done the necessary job of actually counting the numbers (this is not the same as "race," btw) so as to know exactly what they're dealing with for schools, especially. The school system in Los Angeles is one of the worst run in the country for many reasons but the English as a Second Language programs that they started to pioneer in the 1970s made a huge difference, and were important in helping kids of immigrants to assimilate. (I know many of them personally.) I don't see anything close to that in France. Largely because they've decided here that the only identity that matters is French when in fact, people need to be met halfway.

I despise identity politics, but the identity of people, how they feel about who they are and where their allegiances lie, is at the heart of the issue. France needs to wake up and realize that "Frenchness" is not necessarily the be-all end-all for people who were colonized by the French. For some who arrive, it is, and I wish them good luck in being made to feel French. I can say that nine years on myself, I feel as foreign as the day I arrived.

FrédéricLN said...

I agree a great bit with Alexandra Marshall, even if I wasn't in California in the 70's :-) but in western suburbs of Paris.

Making it short for once:

* The political and medias concern for "les quartiers", "la politique de la Ville" started with M. Dubedout in Grenoble around 1982. It has been a quite constant focus of national policies. But with very few interlocutors to negotiate with, but rioters — politicians in France live in Paris intra muros (or Neuilly), none of them as far as I know comes from "quartiers difficiles", not to imagine he/she would live there.

* The budget invested has been very meaningful during the last years thanks to Jean-Louis Borloo and his programme for "Rénovation Urbaine", which worked quite well.

But the price to pay was huge too: almost drop objectives of "développement social", of managing the people/society, and focus on what the public authorities knew how to do: to destroy old housing buildings and build new ones. Even revamping old buildings was seen with distrust, even when the inhabitants and the mayor preferred that.

As far as I can guess, the previous efforts of "développement social" were absorbed by classical patronage — the "médiateurs sociaux" were just youngsters without diploma but agreeing to sponsor some candidate to elections, and so on.

My 2 cents: développement social impulsed by political authorities never works in France. The best we could hope would be equal treatment for people of all towns and neighborhoods. Which would be great. (Cf. some 2009 thoughts on my blog at http://demsf.free.fr/index.php?post/2009/12/30/Pour-les-banlieues-l-egalite ).

brent said...

Anonymous, above, makes a really important--but wrong-headed--point when s/he says that migrants need to be "socialized into accepting the values, laws and cultures of the host countries." Laws, yes--no question. Values? No, only the civic values, not the personal ones. "Culture": NO. Culture is fluid, and especially fluid in a globalized world. The 'French culture' of 2015 is not the same as is was 50 or 100 years ago (pace, MLP and other reactionaries). Through open borders it is heavily permeated by other European cultures (think the Arte channel, or better, touring rock bands), through media it is obviously heavily Americanized, and yes, through migrant populations it has the chance to absorb cultural elements from North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and much more. Call it enrichment, call it pollution, your choice, but it is a fact that won't change. So people like Anonymous--and I fear they are numerous in France as they are in the US--are kidding themselves when they insist that migrants must adopt the 'host' culture, a phantasm that doesn't exist.

Anonymous said...

TO Brent: For clarification the term 'values' above is used in its French significance ie in the case of France the values of the Republic (so clearly the civic values of the host country). It's never a matter of imposing one's personal values on migrants -- although plenty of Europeans may express said desires (Viva free speech).

As for culture, clearly this is fluid and as you say absorbs influences from elsewhere. However that does not, in the French case certainly, preclude the existence of a widely internalised view of what the host culture is and implies (rightly in my opinion) that that view be internalised by non-indigenes who choose to dwell here.

Early waves of Polish, Portuguese, Italian and Spanish immigrants in France are probably an excellent example here: their surnames are everywhere while their Frenchness is absolutely undeniable. Thus to repeat, no incoming minority has a right to seek to impose its beliefs, customs, folkways and religions on the majority of those among whom it lives. Natural acculturation tends to see aspects (of the b,c,f,r above) -- where appreciated by the host culture -- work their way into the majority culture over time anyway?(Anonymous)

bernard said...

(1/2) Anon makes a slight mistake with his "love it or live it". This was the Republican response - tricky Dicky - to Vietnam War opponents in the late 60s and early 70s (remember those bumper stickers). I know, like many, I was there. Naturally, following the revival - and rewriting - of Vietnam events in the 80s, who but the Republican right or French reactionaries would use this term. Just saying.

As for French as a second language, suffice it to say that my own adoptive son attended such a class in his French public primary school with great success (started speaking French in 3 months!) in the 18th arrondissement of Paris in the mid-eighties. For those unfamiliar with the 18th at that time, I will point out that, while certainly not being a no-go zone as libellously reported by Fox News recently for their unsuspecting Republican audience, it certainly was not a rich area of Paris then or now (but in Fox News view, the poor are certainly dangerous on top of being guilty of not being rich). So far as I know, such classes still exist and are free-of-charge of course in France. And just for provocative fun, let me point out that no such class existed in Princeton, NJ or Berkeley, CA, when I was a kid there. I guess I picked up English on the street...

Anyway, the problem is not language. Any kid who grows up anywhere learns the local language, consciously or unconsciously.

More to the point is the fact that the Algerian liberation war has yet to really pass in France. It was not the same with the Indochinese liberation war. Fewer French troops were involved, compared to the several million who passed in Algeria. Further, while there were some Indochinese living in France at the time - 200,000 maybe -, it was nothing compared to the millions of Algerians, Moroccans and Tunisians leaving in France. Finally, between 1 and 2 million "French" lived in Algeria during colonial times, and very few in Indochina. All of them were repatriated in France - mostly in the south-east of the country (climate etc...) - after Algerian independence. Needless to say, few were sympathetic to North Africans. So, of course, the start of this whole problem can to some extent be traced back to colonial times (B. Stora explains it much better than I ever could, read his books!). But only to some extent.

bernard said...

The education system has severely failed. With teacher wages sagging compared to other university degree wages, the profession has become less attractive at a time when massive recruitments were necessary to deal with the increasing number of children admitted to high school level education. The result of this and other budgetary constraints has been that primary, junior and high school level children spend less time in class than was the case 50 years ago. This is naturally more of a handicap for children in uneducated families where French is not the primary language. Today a child of immigrant parents has a statistically lower chance to accede to an elite tertiary education level than that child had 50 years ago. The equality dream of our Republic has been shattered for them. No future.

Then there are many other issues that have been well described by, amongst others FredericLN. This isn't a result of "national unity", we already agreed on many things over the years on this blog though we both are members of different parties.

There is one point where FredericLN is somewhat wrong (hey, national unity can only last so long). M. Valls was mayor of Evry for many years. Evry is a hell of a lot closer to Grigny than to Neuilly or Paris. Fabius's electoral base has always been the poorer suburbs of Rouen. Bartolone's - president of national assembly - electoral base has always been the infamous 9-3 (hey, I lived there for several years, I'm still alive). Then there is Taubira who is from Guyane where there is more poverty than gold. I could go on: France's left politicians political power bases are not especially concentrated in the posh areas. A much more correct statement would have been to note that upper level State bureaucrats almost all live in Paris and Neuilly. It would also be more relevant as the hilarious British series "Yes, Minister" could just as well have been filmed in a French context. How many political initiatives have been sabotaged by the bureaucrats? And then the lobbies, etc...

Stuart said...

I don’t think France has been any less successful than the USA in integrating people of white, Christian or secular, European origin. But apart from those it has faced different challenges, going back at least to when the territory of the former undivided Roman Empire was split into Christian (roughly European) and Muslim (roughly African and Asian) parts, followed by the centuries of necessary but often violent interaction between those parts.
Later, the experiences of colonisation were very different. After the conquest of Mexican territories the USA mostly concentrated on internal colonisation, filling the enormous lands already won from the American Indians and Mexicans. France’s colonisation was external, bringing with it other, more acute, resentments.
On the other hand, France’s legacy of slavery is probably less dangerous to integration than that of the USA because it was largely external. The USA’s internal legacy of slavery is probably more acute (I’ve read several articles linking it directly to what’s been happening in Ferguson and elsewhere) and I couldn’t say which country has dealt with its problems better.

Mitch Guthman said...

The main point I have been trying to make in responding to Prof. Stora is that doubling down on identity politics is a losing proposition. The version of “multiculturalism” that empowered the most conservative, most deeply religious and most tribal elements of the immigrant communities has been a colossal failure.

Clearly, it needs to be replaced by something—the question is, what should replace it? My belief is that integrating newcomers is easier for a republican society where much of the national identity is derived by reference to a political and social ethos than one based on racial identity. It seems to me that republicanism has a lot to offer.

Everyplace has its foundational myths and there’s no doubt that America’s myth of the melting pot has been more honoured in the breach than in the observance. But even so, it still has tremendous resonance and power here. It gives immigrants a shot at claiming to belong that is intuitively respected by most Americans (or at least those who don’t belong to an explicitly nativist political movement like the Republican Party). And, I believe, it is a myth that fits nicely within the America’s republican framework, which suggests that organizing the integration of immigrants along republican lines and inculcating them with republicanism is the best hope for an integrated France.

Martin Luther King and LBJ both understood the power of America’s founding myths and tapped into them to power a movement for inclusion of African-Americans into the mainstream of American life that has been extremely successful. The advocates for immigration reform have finally begun to find success because they, too, have started to make their case as one of inclusion rather than of racial identity. The thing that’s really caused their movement to gain very widespread support has been the descriptions of young people who have lived their entire lives in America and have defined themselves as Americans.
Again, obviously a country where the second largest (and arguably most powerful) political party is openly racist and avowedly nativist is one that is still struggling with the idea of integration. Whatever its failings in that regard, and they are many; America has pretty evidently done a far better job of integrating successive waves of immigrants than has Europe. I believe that is in part because we are a republic and so what is necessary for belonging is more along the lines of the acceptance of republican principles than of racial identity.

I believe that a society like France, whose foundational myths are as much political and cultural as racial, should likewise capitalize on the fact that the French identity is potentially to be found in the acceptance of something along the lines of Patrick Weil’s Four Pillars of French Nationality. It’s a fair compromise: If you come to make a new life, you must accept the governing principles. For the indigenous French, a corresponding understanding must begin to take root that those who come to France and accept the governing principles of the country are French.