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France, Islam, and Fantasy...

by afew Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 07:23:00 AM EST

From the French-language New York blog French Morning comes an interview with historian Justin Vaisse, one of the authors of Integrating Islam (with Jonathan Laurence, a Brookings Institution book).

The Influence of Islam in France Is an American Fantasy

L’Islam en France : le sujet est une des grandes peurs américaines. Le fantasme d’une « Eurabia », Europe submergée par ses minorités arabes et musulmanes, démographiquement plus dynamiques, alimente nombre d’ouvrages et d’éditoriaux.

Islam in France: the topic is one of the great American fears. The fantasy of "Eurabia", Europe overwhelmed by its Arab and Muslim minorities, demographically more dynamic, feeds numerous books and editorials.


French Morning : Une idée désormais commune aux Etats-Unis est que la politique étrangère de la France est pro-arabe (et donc anti-israelienne) en raison du poids de la minorité musulmane dans le pays. Ce n’est pas votre thèse?

Justin Vaisse : Cette idée reparaît en ce moment par exemple avec le livre de David Pryce-Jones (Betrayal : France, the Arabs and the Jews). C’est toujours la même francophobie traditionnelle, qui nous vaut des livres de ce genre à intervalles réguliers. Le problème, c’est que ces auteurs n’expliquent pas par quel miracle une politique qui est constante depuis 40 ans a pu être influencée par une communauté qui, à l’époque était inexistante.

French Morning: A notion that is now common in the United States is that French foreign policy is pro-Arab (and therefore anti-Israeli) as a consequence of the influence of the Muslim minority in the country. You don't share this idea?

Justin Vaisse: It's an idea that has surfaced again recently, for example, with David Pryce-Jones's book (Betrayal: France, the Arabs and the Jews). It's the same old traditional Francophobia that comes up with books like this at regular intervals. The problem is that these authors don't explain by what miracle policy that has been constant for 40 years can have been influenced by a community which, back then, didn't exist.

Vaisse explains that French foreign policy is set by the Elysee with little input from lobbies and pressure groups. Insofar as there is electoral pressure from French Muslims, opinion polls show they don't vote as a block, and the problems that determine their vote are first and foremost employment, housing, and discrimination, not foreign policy.

So, of course, he is asked if French Muslims don't use the threat of riots to influence foreign policy in an anti-Israeli direction. Vaisse replies that France sent troops into Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Lebanon without there being any kind of reaction in the banlieues. And police reports show no link between religion and the rioting that did take place.

...l’intégration est un problème en France et un échec flagrant, que les émeutes de 2005 ont souligné. On a échoué à se débarrasser de ces zones de relégation sociale, ces phénomènes de ghetto, avec chômage, échec scolaire, etc. Mais la dimension religieuse ne joue pas. La police, les Renseignements Généraux l’ont souligné, l’islamisme n’est pas un facteur dans ces émeutes. La preuve, quand les organisations religieuses, comme l’UOIF (l’Union des organisations islamiques de France) ont tenté de faire stopper les violences, elles ont échoué. L’UOIF a publié un fatwa et cela n’a eu absolument aucune conséquence sur le nombre de voitures brûlées.

... integration is a problem in France and an obvious failure, that was underlined by the 2005 riots. There has been failure to get rid of these social relegation zones, ghetto phenomena, with unemployment, school failure, etc. But the religious dimension doesn't come into play. The police, the Renseignements Généraux (political police) emphasized, Islamism is not a factor in the riots. The proof is that when religious bodies, like the UOIF (Union of Islamic Organizations in France), tried to stop the violence, they failed. The UOIF published a fatwa and it had absolutely no effect on the number of cars that got burned.

So, as we have said before: the riots were underclass youth, not Muslim youth. And, further on:

L’affaire des caricatures de Mahomet n’a donné lieu à aucun incident en France. Plus que tout, le foulard islamique a montré que les musulmans de France respectaient la loi. C’est un sacrifice pour certains d’entre eux, pour qui le foulard est important, mais avant tout ils respectent la loi.

French Morning : Est-ce que cet exemple du foulard montre que le modèle français de laïcité est finalement compatible avec l’Islam ?

Justin Vaisse : Ce qui est sûr, c’est que le modèle républicain français a des avantages considérables. Il fournit un logiciel d’intégration très puissant. La revendication d’égalité, de justice sociale peut se faire à l’intérieur du système, un peu comme les Noirs aux Etats-Unis se sont appuyés sur les principes du modèle américain qui n’étaient pas appliqués. D’ailleurs on voit bien que d’autres pays, la Grande-Bretagne, les Pays-Bas, regardent désormais vers le système français, parce qu’il sont allés trop loin vers le multiculturalisme. Nous pensons que la France avec la laïcité peut offrir un nouveau terrain d’expérimentation de rencontre de l’Islam avec la modernité. Cela transformera l’Islam, mais aussi évidemment la France.

The Mohammed cartoons affair didn't give rise to any incidents in France. Above all, the Islamic headscarf showed that Muslims in France respect the law. It's a sacrifice for some of them, for whom the headscarf id important, but first and foremost they show respect for the law.

French Morning: Does this headscarf example show that the French secular model is, in the end, compatible with Islam?

Justin Vaisse: What is certain, is that the French republican model has considerable advantages. It provides powerful integration software. Claims for equality and social justice can take place within the system, rather as African-Americans based their claims on principles of the American model which were not being applied. Besides, it's visible that other countries, Great Britain, the Netherlands, are now looking towards the French system, because they went too far in the direction of multiculturalism. We think that France, with its secular model, can offer a new experimental ground for the meeting of Islam with modernity. It will transform Islam, but also, evidently, France too.

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Great catch! (What aren't the American rightwing afraid of??)

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 07:46:45 AM EST
Me?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 08:29:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If they come to know you, they're gonna be really afraid...

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 08:54:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
True. I don't know myself yet, and I'm pretty scared already...
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 09:02:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Guess again...
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 08:54:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 09:03:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Interesting interview. I'll have to check out his book.
Was the perception in the US media really that the riots were instigated by "Islamists" as opposed to pissed off youngsters?

"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde
by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 08:27:08 AM EST
"France's Muslim rioters" was truly a by-word in the English-language press, and it still pops up. We spent a lot of time here saying religion had nothing to do with it. See these diaries: one, two, three, four.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 08:37:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I totally agree.  This was a class riot, but I did want to point out that there were pressures in France to turn this into a revolt with religious harmonies.  Alain Finkielkraut [Le Monde]: "le gros [des émeutiers] était constitué de jeunes d'origine africaine et nord-africaine..." [The majority of the rioters was constituted by youth of African and North-African descent...".

Of course, Finkielkraut was proved totally wrong, but the tones of his discourse (and Sarkozy's) shaped the perceptions--the misperceptions--of many people.  Likewise, the media (in France or the U.S.), never really tried to correct these misperceptions, at least not on the evening news.

I haven't read all the excellent diaries that were posted here during that time since 2005 or 2006, so I'm sure I'm just reposting what you wrote.

by andrethegiant on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 09:29:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Don't forget Hélène Carrère d'Encausse and Gérard Larcher, Minister of Labour said the riots were caused by polygamy... (it was echoed by...the Financial Times!)


"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 09:57:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Polygamy? Gee, then I don't understand at all what Mitt Romney has against France...

(Yeah, I know, bad joke. I can't help myself at times...)

"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde

by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 10:10:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You're quite right. See, in particular, this story from back then, which starts with an editorial from André Glucksmann and goes on to an astounding interview in Haaretz with Alain Finkielkraut. (That he later tried to tone down by saying he "didn't recognize the person" who was talking in the interview. But did not issue a straight denial or an accusation against the journalists...)
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 04:33:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is also a fantasy about demography: many Americans think that, in France, Arabs have more children than other groups. Its false: as soon as the second generation, French of foreign origin have the same fertility rate as those of metropolitan origin, and the immigration flow has been very low for decades, so the first generation of immigrants doesn't represent a lot of people.

Another, belief tends to think that the children stick to their parents' culture, religion and values which, in France is not true. The re-islamization of a small part of the young French of Arab origin is a new phenomenon due to their feeling of exclusion.

I wouldn't say that integration has failed. I see more and more people from Arab origin very well integrated. That doesn't mean it's enough: too many young (and less young) people from Arab (or African) origin still face widespread discrimination and there is a lot to be done to overcome it.

   

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 09:18:26 AM EST
Yup. Though I think I saw something indicating that second generation Arab and African immigrants have slightly more kids than the average native born, on the order of 0.1 or 0.2 children per woman.

A way of explaining it to Americans might be by analogy to immigrants in the US. Imagine Hispanics but with Hispanics numbering only half the number they do and with far lower immigration rates. Like Hispanic immigrants, Arab and African immigrants do have higher birth rates than native born Americans. Like Hispanic immigrants that drops off sharply. The gap however is smaller in both instances than with Hispanics and whites in the US, and again, the numbers are far smaller. So perhaps we can take Asians - a somewhat smaller proportion of the population than Muslims in France, but similar or higher immigration rates. Like Arabs and Muslims Asian immigrants have more kids than native born  (and like them, often more than in their native countries), though the drop off with US born Asians is even sharper than with French Muslims.  From a demographic point of view, speaking of the Arabification of France is about as absurd as speculation about an Asian majority in the US.

As far as religion goes, French Muslims are much more likely to be devout than French non-Muslims, but much less so than American Christians. That goes across the board. I'm too lazy to look it up now, but I believe fundamentalist beliefs are shared by about twenty percent of French Muslims. Twenty percent of seven percent. Sharia isn't coming to France anytime soon. And potentially violent fundamentalists are a small minority among that group. Something for the security forces to keep an eye on, but in the same way that the violent radical anti-abortion groups or white supremacist ones are something the FBI takes an interest in. That's it. One annoying public security issue among many.

What France does have is an unpleasant intersection between racism and class structure. But that should be pretty familiar to Americans. I personally believe that France should consider adopting some of the American tools against racism (affirmative action, specialized bureaus aimed at enforcing the laws against discrimination, class action lawsuits), but the reverse is also true as regards anti-poverty measures.

In general the 'Eurabia' phenomenon is racism pure and simple. We've seen it many times, applied to various groups, in both Europe and the US. Plus ca change...

by MarekNYC on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 02:13:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Adding to your description, it is important to note that according to studies, about half of "arab-origin" people born in France end up marrying people of another origin... Unlike most such immigrant or racial communities in the US, as far as I know.

Indeed, when police round up islamist terrorrist suspects, a significant part are converted "whites".

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 04:28:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not sure about that statistic. When I tried looking into it a while back it looked iffy. I can't remember the details but it had something to do with narrow definitions relating to the convolutions imposed by French restrictions on studies based on categories of race, ethnicity, or religion and thus being forced to rely on immigrant status and country of origin as proxies. In any case you actually do get fairly high rates of intermarriage among second and third generation Latinos and Asians in the US (between a third and half depending on what exactly you're looking at). Black intermarriage rates are still quite low, though rising.
by MarekNYC on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 04:57:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In keeping with what I guess is the spirit of Eurotrib, perhaps I should withdraw my comment and explain that all  of this stuff is actually perfectly fair, cause you know, French people do bad things, and some are racist and stuff, so everything bad said about them is true.
by MarekNYC on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 06:50:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Come on...

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Sat Mar 3rd, 2007 at 08:16:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry about that comment, let anger over an argument get away, and in any case I shouldn't bring a dispute from one thread over to another.
by MarekNYC on Sat Mar 3rd, 2007 at 01:26:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's OK. I (as many here) appreciate your contributions and I think we shouldn't rub salt on our respective wounds.

By the way, I agree with your comment above: we have a lot to learn from each others on the racism/integration issue. However, I don't think you can easily import "tools" from a very different model. For example, it is almost impossible to implement affirmative action based on race in the French model because this is not a criterion recognised in the French society (IMHO rightly so). However, it is possible to develop affirmative action-like schemes based on social or geographical criteria. In fact we started to do so recently, but it is insufficient. And, for sure enforcing much more harshly anti-discrimination laws is possible and necessary.

 

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Sat Mar 3rd, 2007 at 02:19:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Please note that, before any argument on another thread, I gave your substantial comment above a 4, and am not about to take it back.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Mar 4th, 2007 at 03:53:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yep..

I just have to recall ehre that reality does not matter... narratives ahve life ont heir own.. and if they perfectly fit different pieces that otherwise would break a part , theya re kept until a disonance comes...

The republcian party uses this fact all the time to present their candidates as mainstream with the help of the big media.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 04:52:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
integration is a problem in France and an obvious failure, that was underlined by the 2005 riots. There has been failure to get rid of these social relegation zones, ghetto phenomena, with unemployment, school failure, etc. But the religious dimension doesn't come into play.
Doesn't this say that it is a race problem, and not a religious problem.  

So, as we have said before: the riots were underclass youth, not Muslim youth. And, further on:
I thought I had read articles and studies that showed middle eastern youth have a much more difficult time in job interviews, when they are seen in person and seen to be of Middle Eastern heritage.
by wchurchill on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 04:03:29 PM EST
There is a race problem, clearly. Especially when it comes to police differentiating between "Arabs" and "white" people when checking id, etc.., or to get into certain jobs.

But it is often noted that having a bad address, from one of the lousy suburb, is enough not to get to the job interview.

Some of the projects now have such a bad reputation, lousy education, hard access by public transportation, that everybody is hit by discriminations. In this way the riots where not particularly racial.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 04:32:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"Underclass youth" doesn't mean necessarily "white". There were whites among the rioters, as there were blacks and Arabs. Racism certainly plays a part, but it's even more than that a class phenomenon.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 04:44:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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