by Ben P
Tue Nov 8th, 2005 at 06:36:33 PM EST
I don't have a lot to add to the following, because I largely agree with this author: Timothy Smith, a professor of French history at Canada's prestigious Queens University. I will largely excerpt, and provide a few comments. I'm more interested in the feedback from others.
Smith begins his analysis, taking on the French allergy to multiculturalism:
The French government refuses to recognize ethnic communities as legitimate actors - it would prefer that they simply disappear quietly into the mainstream. North Africans are expected to jettison all their cultural and religious baggage at the border, and pretend that their ancestors are the Gauls. Multiculturalism is dismissed as a dangerous Anglo-Saxon import, or even the path to Balkanization. Sixteen-year-old girls donning head scarves seem to threaten France's century-old official separation of church and state. The head-scarf ban was interpreted by Muslims as an attack on their religion and way of life, a sign that they are not welcome in France.
Indeed, they are not welcome: Opinion polls tell us that most French people believe there are too many Arabs in France. Apart from a couple of councils for integration and for the Muslim faith, dating back to 2003, the Republic tolerates no intermediary bodies that might stand between the individual and the state. The French believe that multiculturalism would only privilege individuals by association with their ethnic, religious or racial roots. There is no such concept as Algerian French. By contrast, one can be Chinese Canadian and still be considered a full citizen. Before immigrants to Canada become equal in the economic sense, their culture is already considered equal in the theoretical sense. The one helps lead to the other.
Now, Smith moves on to a discussion of unemployment and labour markets:
Canada is no bed of roses for thousands of recent immigrants toiling at minimum-wage jobs, but history suggests that, in the long run, many of them will enter the lower middle class. And, as the French riots suggest, no jobs are worse than bad jobs. Multiculturalism embodies a message of hope and puts a high ideal in our sights. France tells newcomers that their past belongs in another country. Most Canadians see immigrants in a positive light - they add diversity to the cultural scene, they spice up our cuisine, they make important economic contributions, they will help pay for the boomers' pensions. In the context of chronic high unemployment, a large chunk of the French-born majority sees immigrants as threats to its share of a limited system of spoils.
In France, well-intentioned labour laws, high payroll taxes and red tape have slowed job creation in the low-wage sector. Hiring and firing is a costly and time-consuming affair. Consequently, many firms simply do not bother to hire. North Africans are the last hired and first fired. Wages and vacation time are increased for the comfortably employed insiders, a moat is dug around the city, the drawbridge is raised, and those left knocking at the walls are denounced for refusing to support a system that excludes them.
No comment here. We've been discussing this for a while, and I tend to occur with Smith's sentiment as well as his recommendations. Well-intentioned laws - defended for dogmatic and/or cynical reasons - are no longer useful if they don't work well.
France is still waiting for a politician to lead them back to full employment - without which there isn't a glimmer of hope in the French suburbs. The recent inflammatory remarks of Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy may spell the end of his presidential ambitions. (He has called the rioters "scum" and "rabble.") But Mr. Sarkozy is also the only prominent French politician courageous enough to confront the French with the gravity of their economic problems. (He has advocated reforms that would weaken the power of the trade unions and open more opportunities for immigrants. He has also called for affirmative action in hiring and anonymous resumés to reduce discrimination.)
Amazingly, there isn't a single member of the National Assembly from mainland France who is a visible minority, even as 9 per cent to 10 per cent of the population is Muslim. If there were one such politician, perhaps he or she could visit the suburbs and deliver a message of hope. Until then, it will fall to Mr. Sarkozy to ask the French people, "What kind of a social model tolerates 10-per-cent unemployment for a quarter of a century? How long can this continue before we wake up?"
And again, I concur with this author's sentiment. Sarkozy is a flawed character. His grandstanding, his politicing, his cynical appeals to racism, his law and order lust are all marks against him in my book. However, at least Sarkozy is willing to think "outside the box," and he is not afraid to address serious problems with substantive ideas. The Socialists and others try to dismiss the entire Sarkozy package by hiding behind his ugly side. But simply calling him racism doesn't change the fact that some of his ideas are good and necessary.
My problem with Sarkozy is that he isn't going to win because of this, however. He's going to win because of his law and order rhetoric, which many French voters will interpret as a subtle, yet powerful endorsement of their own bigotry, whether explicit or implicit.
As such, Sarkozy is going to have a mandate to do things that I think are not useful, while he is going to have a lot more trouble doing things that would be: challenging laicite, implementing affirmative action, recognizing that there are minority communities in France, changing the labour laws.
So I don't hold out too much hope. But considering the other options, I don't see much else to vote for. Unless the Socialists get a clue - maybe Fabius? - but I don't see that happening. I made this point after the referendum as well: i.e. unless the French left is willing to take a hard look at itself and at the nation as a whole, Sarkozy will become the next President. And perhaps he should.