On Saturday night in Bordeaux, sociologist and ex-Front National member Alain Soral joined Moroccan imam Tareq Oubrou for a discussion entitled, “French, Muslim and Patriotic.” After the two experts discussed their points of view on what it means to be Muslim and French in today’s society, the debate opened up to the nearly 200 people in the audience.
As perhaps the only American in attendance, I felt like I was watching the discussion from the sidelines: not 100% affected by what was being discussed and not 100% understanding where either side was coming from.
It’s hard to discuss immigration with French people as an American. Coming from a land created by immigration, how can I reproach a people (such as the Maghrebin) for setting their sights on a new life in a new land? Living most of my life in a country with virtually no single culture to preserve, how can I fight for one religion or culture to prevail here in France?
For these reasons, I usually choose to extricate myself from any conversation regarding immigration, unless I am directly asked about it. But even then, I try to hold my tongue. I’ve never had a French person much appreciate my responses.
While Saturday’s debate discussed whether or not French culture and religion can survive alongside or in spite of Islam, it forgot to touch on one major point that would clarify much of the immigration problems facing France: What does it mean to be “French” today?
Soral kept talking about how his views were not his own, but those of the “typical French white male” or as he put it, “the average French person.” This is where Soral – and much of French politicians – have gone wrong in the past few years. As one audience member asked during the discussion, “why are we still discussing whether the Muslim community can survive in France? We’re into the 5th or 6th generation Muslim in France these days… the issue is tired.”
The average French person no longer fits into the white Christian mold. Just look in any number of France’s chapels to see that most of them are in a constant state of emptiness. While Bordeaux is in the midst of a political cock fight against the possible construction of an enormous mosque in town, most “typically-French” people I know are “non-croyant” and haven’t been to church in years. While the Muslim headscarf has been deemed “ostentatious” by the French administration and an affront to their precious Christianity, the only remnants of “French Christian religion” are a few pictures of Santa Claus in public schools around Christmastime. When it comes to France’s culture and religion, I don’t necessarily see what the French think they are at risk of losing.
To me, France is not little old white ladies walking around with rosaries hanging from their necks (that would be Italy) – it’s great cheese, wine and pastries. It’s beautiful palaces, museums and castles, green countryside and stone houses. Living in France means less hours at the office and more time to spend with family. France is loved by so many because it still has that old world, European charm even in the 21st century.
However, that charm is often to its detriment. As the Soral-Oubrou discussion demonstrated, France is a little too old-world when it comes to current events. Immigration is not exactly a new issue. Ever since the war with Algeria from 1954-1962, France has tried ineffectively to integrate the Muslim population into French culture. Looking around today, even in France’s smallest towns, there are Vietnemese, Moroccan, Senegalese, Chinese and Cameroonese children, adults and grandparents. Immigration is here and it’s here to stay.
So before we drop our jaws at the prospect of being both French, Muslim and Patriotic all at the same time, let’s remember that – despite what the French political scene may look like – being French in 2009 does not necessarily mean being white and Christian. Until the “new French” person has been nationally established, then we can really start talking about immigration and what it means to be patriotic.