Jean-François Copé declares his candidature for UMP leader earlier this year
By JOHN VINOCUR
Published: November 16, 2012
A FEW weeks ago, an esteemed civil rights organization asserted that anti-white racism has become a fact of French life.
The International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism said that this did not involve specific discrimination of the kind confronted by Arabs and blacks, but held that anti-white racism “exists, and there are no taboos or hesitation about saying so.”
The organization has become a co-plaintiff in an apparently racially motivated aggravated assault case involving an attack on a white male. According to press reports, the suspect was shown on a video surveillance tape wielding a broken bottle and shouting, “Dirty white, dirty Frenchman,” in French and Arabic.
“Today,” wrote Pierre-André Taguieff, a sociologist and historian, “in certain ‘difficult neighborhoods,’ so-called poor whites are the primary victims of a majority of so-called poor non-whites. The rejection of whites is, in turn, encouraged by Islamist propaganda that is hostile to Muslims’ integration.”
Obviously, the majority white population in France is not under siege. And the Muslims here (an estimated five million people, including citizens and the country’s largest immigrant group) continue to face various forms of prejudice and exclusion.
But the anti-racism league’s stance gives substance to an intensifying antagonism at the heart of French society from years of failed integration — and to what is seen by large segments of French society as Muslim unwillingness to accommodate the law, customs and lifestyle of the majority.
A survey published Oct. 25 by the Ifop polling organization underscores the clash. It reported that 60 percent of the French consider that “the influence and visibility of Islam in France” is too great, 68 percent believe that Muslims’ nonintegration is their own fault, and that refusal of Western values, fanaticism and submission are the words that best correspond to the idea they have of Islam.
With the possibility of France entering recession next year, and alongside recent cases of murder and alleged plots by Muslim extremists, this amounts to real grief and tension.
Despairingly, both are compounded by the incapacity of successive governments to deal with the Muslims’ role in France with anything like decisive engagement.
First, no president here has ever made a priority of massive investment — call it high dosage affirmative action — in the newcomers’ future education and employment.
Second, no leader has ever sought to enforce specific standards for Muslim assimilation.
Those standards are not a vague, nonintuitive notion in France. They correspond to the secular character of the French republic, which promises freedom of religion for all, but also demands a complete absence of religion from the activities of the state — and bars the insertion of religion by anyone into those activities.
Franz-Olivier Giesbert, editor of Le Point, a center-right newsweekly, has written of Islam moving into segments of civil society, such as its hospitals, school programs and prisons, because there is no adequate defense of the French secular model. “Such is the state of our national exhaustion and procrastination,” he wrote.
By rejecting affirmative action and not drawing clear redlines for assimilation, such procrastination places enormous negative weight on the prospect for profound change. For French politics, a real turnabout would mean leaving behind the usual petty left-right dart-throwing on immigration, and moving ahead with the formation of a near-miraculous national alliance of Socialists and conservatives to enforce a new direction.
These days, President François Hollande’s actions can be summed up by his statement of contrition about colonial France’s murderous treatment of Algerians. That’s the politics of gesture and routine, balanced out by announcements like one noting that the pace of expulsions of illegal immigrants is now ahead of last year’s — public relations not just incidentally aimed at looking tough for what’s left of the Socialists’ white working-class constituency.
Coming on top of greater Muslim alienation and more complaints about Islam from the white majority, the current government effort is the rough equivalent of the denial that often has been the reflexive response to issues involving everyday racism here since the end of French colonialism in the 1960s.
Clearly, mumbling that the automatic equality attached to French citizenship and the fairness of French society are sufficient guarantees for Muslim integration is a dead incantation in 2012.
It’s hard to be optimistic about France buying or charming back an estranged community that in some neighborhoods lives life as a partially parallel society. Many Muslims might ask, Why should I accept the values of the republic when I believe they function mostly in theory?
An extensive affirmative action program, with clear school and job entry quotas might work, but it cannot come now without an accommodating and assimilating new face offered as a quid pro quo from the Muslim side.
Manuel Valls, the Socialist interior minister, touched recently on a unhappy piece of complementary reality.
He said, “We know what the cost can be to a democratic society when an economic crisis mixes with a crisis of identity. … It can lead to a rejection — a deep current that carries everyone away.”
In this France, it’s late in the day for dikes.