Where is France really heading with it’s social troubles?
In light of the recent attacks on the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, there have been some probing questions on everyone’s minds about where this is going to take the difficult relationship between Islam and the French. France can be termed as a diverse community of people, and the feelings that one single person shares with one another, respective of race, gender or religion is not separate to their shared identity as French people. There have been reports of white extremists being abusive with French Muslims on the streets and this is despite vocal phrases coming from that community of people about how they never agreed with the attacks.
In France, every single person is entitled to their opinion and their opinions are often multi-coloured: one French might view Charlie Hebdo as an insensitive publication, while another might view it as a satire that has a good and relevant sense of humour. But what does it really say about the French? That they are tolerant enough of differing views? That after the attacks France will grow in its secularist views towards people of different religious backgrounds? The trouble is that this is still 2015 and it would not be too farfetched to believe that 1993 wasn’t such a long time ago.
The nineties in France was all about housing projects that were rotting, about ballooned-up crime, about unemployment and also a whole lot about Muslims. But the French who believe in secularism over religion, do not know the real picture of France that is inhabited by Muslims: they live in dingy neighbourhoods, in poverty and apart from society. Industrial decline is the norm in France and communities are known to not interact or mix with each other much, and everywhere you look minorities are underrepresented.
Amidst economic uncertainty, it is well known that only graduates with elite degrees can secure jobs in France (and other similar states, such as the United States of America) and this might be denting the reigning idea of France as a republic, since communities continue to remain in isolation. The Republic can be portrayed as a democratic state, where everything you do in France is about France: from the clothes you wear every day to the food you love to eat.
In comparison, to America there is not enough debate about immigration, which is a shame because France had been the hotbed for immigration in the mid-1800s, a time that the rest of Europe only oversaw migration, which only changed almost a century later in the 1930s. France’s idea of secularism needs to be built on the understanding it shares for its colonial past: people of different religious and ethnic backgrounds know no other reality, except that France is their home too, and it does not matter if it is difficult to underpin the reasons for hostility in the recent attacks – France needs to be clear in its understanding that no one French can ever agree with any of it.
Secularism, when it avoids the natural breeding of segregation is acceptable: such as the 2004 law passed by the French parliament that does not permit young Muslim women to come to school with their hair covered, as a religious gesture. There is a growing difference in ideologies between the United States and France here: not only do they welcome immigrants more, they are also quite against the state interfering with religious observations. This is an interesting point of view to hold because the state also needs to think about the population cohabiting peacefully and with a certain impartiality towards all French people. A school can be regarded as the place where a young child, grows into a young French, so fanning republicanism is actually a much more worthy thought than it might appear to some.