Thursday, January 15, 2015

Two Frances? A New "Social Fracture"?

In the wake of last week's attacks, the thesis of "the two Frances" is spreading widely. The idea is simple. As philosopher Marcel Gauchet put it on the radio this morning, there are people in France--no one knows how many--who say, "We are not like you, we're not going to play your game." Gauchet was speaking in particular of the schools, in the wake of reports that many students (again, no one knows how many) refused to observe the moment of silence or insisted that the prosecution of Dieudonné on charges of "apology for terrorism" demonstrated the existence of a double standard in France in regard to free speech. Education minister Vallaud-Belkacem, speaking on another station, said that she had received 200 reports of teachers unable to control their classes because of such incidents, reports that had been passed up through the hierarchy. Undoubtedly there were many more incidents in which teachers did not lose control and therefore did not report to superiors.

So how bad is the "social fracture?" The phrase "social fracture" sends us back to the 1995 presidential campaign, when Jacques Chirac employed these words, borrowed from Emmanuel Todd. Of course, he was then talking about the divide between established France, employed France, secure France, and the minority of the unemployed, precariously employed, and generally disaffected. Then it was only in part an ethnic and religious divide. Today, the ethnic and religious component is essential. But still we are not talking about all Muslims. As I argued in a previous post, the usual institutions of integration are working as they have in the past. What has happened, however, is that the socioeconomic fracture of which Chirac spoke in 1995 has come to be concentrated within an ethnoreligious and ethnocultural divide reinforced by geopolitical conflict between Islamic radicals and Western powers. This changes the way the problem is perceived.

Whenever there is a palpable social fracture, criminality takes on a new dimension. Crime becomes more than simple lawbreaking. It becomes a political act, an attack on authority deemed to be alien and oppressive. The convergence of jihadi ideology with everyday criminality transforms a foreign threat into internal subversion. This has a corrosive effect. It magnifies fear beyond all reason. People cease to feel secure in their homes, because, they believe, the enemy is already within the gates. Suspicion feeds on itself.

France faces such a moment now. Sunday's mass demonstration--the largest in French history, which is saying something--reflected a yearning for unity in the face of this social fracture. It was an impressive statement but also, as such statements always are, misleading. As French history has shown time and again, "Paris is not France." Indeed, the Paris of les honnêtes hommes is not even Paris. On Sunday, even though there were marches in cities across France, the marchers, despite their numbers, did not represent all of France. Paris is not France: the perpetrators were also born in Paris, and they still have friends and supporters in Paris as well in other cities and especially in the tough suburbs, as the incidents in the schools demonstrate (we need a better geography of where these incidents occurred). So France is uneasy. Both Frances are uneasy, each afraid of the other. Decisions will soon be taken that may determine whether this anxious standoff results in a withdrawal from the brink or spills over into more overt expression of what until now has been sullen mutual suspicion, if not contempt. It is a fraught moment, a dangerous moment, and I can't say which way things will go.

UPDATE: A hopeful note, perhaps:

Après une nuit blanche suite à l’attaque de Charlie Hebdo, passée à relire l’histoire de la République, Zimba Benguigui, enseignante d’arts appliqués dans le 20e arrondissement de Paris, est arrivée dans son établissement avec une conviction : la nécessité de se donner du temps « pour écouter les élèves ». « Et c’est eux qui ont pris l’initiative de se recueillir. » Dans cet établissement chargé de prendre en charge des adolescents en grande difficulté scolaire et sociale, parfois handicapés, le temps est, depuis, comme suspendu. « Impossible de faire cours depuis mercredi, raconte Mme Benguigui. Les jeunes ont besoin de parler, ils oublient la récré… La prise de conscience a jailli. On frôle parfois le concours d’éloquence. Je suis éblouie. »
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bernard said...

"Then it was only in part an ethnic and religious divide. Today, the ethnic and religious component is essential."

I am not sure I agree fully with you on this. Already in 1995, the year which saw the Algerian Jihad take a strong foothold in France, unemployment, exclusion etc were heavily concentrated on the working class (if there is anything new since then, it is the extension of unemployment to the middle class), and the Muslim community has always been of course to a massive extent working class. In fact if there has been a social change in his community, it is that since then some, not enough, have managed to graduate to the middle class. Perhaps the change is that several decades of mass unemployment - France has had mass unemployment since the late seventies actually - have ended up, in conjunction with Islamic fundamentalism which started with the Iranian revolution, producing cumulative effects.

I remember perfectly well that some of my research colleagues started to assess hysteresis effects on French unemployment in 1981, BTW.

Remember the "no future" of Punks in the seventies, we know have the real "no future" of our ghettos and the mad deviance of a few thousand.

FrédéricLN said...

If I may argue a little bit differently from Bernard in a first move… As an evaluator of public policies since 1997 (and until 2005) and a market researcher before, I can certify that ethnic and religious divide is not new, and that it appeared quite often much more clearly in surveys (those I've been part of, at least) than any guessed "lutte des classes" (i.e. fight between socio-economic groups) that I never met.

BTW, Harris and de Sédouy already stated during their "Voyage à l'intérieur du Parti communiste" that "communist" militants had turned petit-bourgeois and had lost contact with any working class, and that were the 70's.

I can also certify that our findings about the importance of tackling or assuming ethnic and religious divide was hardly welcome. We were often asked to rephrase conclusions the politically correct way, i.e., pointing socio-economic differences that were 1) (supposed to be) the deep reason for the ethnic or religious divides we saw, 2) considered as the only valuable focus of any policy.

That's more true of public policies, than of market research. E.g., I took a small part in 1992 or 1993 to a research on the potential market for "halal" food certification. The topic was viewed as a bit touchy, but we could do the work an unbiased way! On the opposite, in the field of public transportation, our recommendations to take into account languages diversity within French residents, never met agreement of decision makers.

It's funny to see Fox News highlighting (absolutely imaginary) "no-go zones" within Paris, i.e. neighborhoods with a high proportion of African-European or Arab residents. As far as we French know, ethnic divide between neighborhood "communities" is the usual way people settle and live in the United States, and even the neighborhoods Fox News draw on its map are, I guess, more mixed than many, if not most, neighborhoods in the United States.

After all, the Fox News graphist (?) may have had an "over-French", maybe more than an American, view of present Paris. Indeed, I can hear quite often sentences like "On n'est plus chez nous", or constant uses of the pronoun "Ils", "eux", referring to some fuzzy entity mixing "les jeunes", "les étrangers", "les intégristes" or "les Arabes". Never with any connotation of poverty or "working class".

I guess that should be understood in the perspective of the very deep attachment of the French to the national soil, landscapes, and cities (remember Bouvines and the like). This soil is what millions of French men and women died for. Jean-Marie Domenach had dazzling pages about that in "Regarder la France", calling our country "le champ des morts". This view is not politically correct, because the Vichy administration in 1940-45 explicitly used the topic (Pétain's famous "la terre, elle, ne ment pas", ± "But the earth never lies"). So the refounded Republic wouldn't even consider the earth. It wasn't more than the stage for economic, social, technological development. But did minds change that much? On TV, an engineer who developed great new devices will never have a tenth of the attention a landlord will get if he cares about nice gardens everybody can visit.

I apologize for writing so long — you know, in present circumstances, we French and also I need to think, and here may be the best place for that.

Imho, political leaders and media will have to admit the possibly (less and less) ethnical divides, and the (more and more) religious divides, between the French. Maybe religions should at some moment be acknowledged as organizations having a legitimate place in "public space", as sports or trade unions always had. (1/2 !)

FrédéricLN said...

(2/2 !)

But I would consider (possibly agreeing with Bernard) that public policies in France should keep fully aside of religions; that "laïcité" should remain one of their core values. And that the path towards a better "intégration" of the French society, towards a better mix of its components, should be the conquest of equality: equal recognition, equal public funding, equal opportunities, equal access to jobs.

France needs an abolition of privileges. But, as opposed to 1789, much more than 4% of the French feel they might loose in this case. A vast majority, I think, feels itself in the same team as taxi owners, pharmacists, "notaires", civil servants, cereal growers, and all those who "strived hard in order to get a safe position". Leaving only tiny opportunities for the sons and daughters of immigrants.

Whatever Daniel Cohn-Bendit said ;-) , sending more sports teachers is not going to do it.

Sorry for the screen spammed and thanks for it too.