Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Generational Divide

Suddenly, everyone is worried about the younger generation--younger Muslims in particular. François Hollande announced new measures for the schools today, includying "lay instruction about religion as social fact," a proposal that immediately drew negative commentary from teachers: "He wants us to teach the sociology of religion to ten-year-olds," one said. "Let him try it."

Politicians of course need to come up with quick fixes. But two sharp-eyed observers of the French scene, Judah Grunstein and Gilles Kepel, see a much deeper problem of social alienation affecting the 30-something generation in particular. Grunstein puts it this way:

There are many reasons why the 30-something generation represents a dividing line within France’s Arab and Muslim population, separating an older and more resigned population from a younger and more alienated one. Part of it is a socio-biological phenomenon: After all, 40-somethings have families, responsibilities, more maturity and less of a chip on their shoulder. They also have an accumulation of lived experience that makes them less prone to appeals rooted in quests for meaning and identity. But part of why the 30-something and younger generations seem so at odds with the country that surrounds them surely has to do with the very different social landscape in which these younger generations grew up.
Kepel, an authority on political Islam, also notes a generational shift of a somewhat different order:
La société musulmane en France a changé depuis la guerre civile algérienne des années 90. La génération des pères, des «darons», n’est plus aux manettes. Les manettes sont désormais, pour les plus religieux, entre les mains de quadras qui ont réussi, notamment ceux que j’appelle les entrepreneurs du halal, qui gèrent les sites de «vigilance islamique» en ligne. Pour eux, il est très important de se poser en défenseurs de la religion «intégrale», comme ils disent, et il en va de leur légitimité communautaire de combattre Charlie Hebdo. En revanche, il leur faut traiter au quotidien, ne serait-ce que pour faire du business, avec d’autres Français, juifs notamment. Qu’ils exècrent les «impies» et les «sionistes», c’est dans un autre registre. Cela différencie l’impact symbolique des deux attaques, dans ce qui apparaît sinon comme une tragédie unique.
The problems that Grunstein and Kepel highlight cannot be addressed by tweaks to the school curriculum. France will have to change the way it looks at its immigrant communities. The shock of the attacks may have started that change in motion. At least people are talking about the problem much more openly than before. More Muslims need to join the conversation, however. We need to hear from the inside what is going on.


Alexandra Marshall said...

This is not hearing directly from the source, but it seems pretty close to me.

I was really moved by this piece, it's true, there is finally a conversation starting to happen, on dinner party level as well as in the press. Like DSK was their Anita Hill moment, maybe this will be their Trayvon Martin (and with hopefully much more humane results). I realize I'm playing a bit fast and loose with the analogies, but...

FrédéricLN said...

"At least people are talking about the problem much more openly than before. More Muslims need to join the conversation, however. We need to hear from the inside what is going on." -> Yes. Yesterday's meeting at Argenteuil was exactly about that. It was not open, so I can't write much about what others say, but my own words can give a flavor of the topics others discussed. (I put the link as signature — that is in French).