France Reconsiders Assimilation—and Threatens Its Own Identity

One step forward, two steps back. Maybe. France is thinking that the project of requiring Muslim immigrants to integrate into French society is just too hard and perhaps the authorities can just redefine the problem away. However, the surrender to insistent Muslim demands to remake France into a sharia-compliant country would be a fundamental change to the social structure and how the French see their national identity. Secularism and freedom from religion is foundational and stems from the 1789 revolution. Including Islamic values is a surrender of major proportions.

One specific issue has been the burqa ban, which was debated at length for a couple years before passage in 2010. But since then, riots over burqas have occurred in the towns of Marseille and Trappes.

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Defender of traditional French values Marine Le Pen called the proposed plan “a declaration of war on the French Republic, the history of France and French culture.”

I’m guessing that the proposed Museum of Colonization designed to teach schoolkids about slavery and colonialism won’t include the history of Muslim Barbary pirates kidnapping more than a million Europeans to be enslaved. For more about that forgotten history, see Christopher Hitchens’ Jefferson Versus the Muslim Pirates.

France mulls overhaul of ‘assimilation’ policy towards immigrants, Daily Telegraph, December 13, 2013

A government report which proposes ending the ban on Muslim headscarves in schools and emphasising the ‘Arab-Oriental’ dimension of French identity has angered conservatives

A French government report has proposed a radical overhaul of the “assimilation” model which requires immigrants to abandon their culture for that of France, including ending the ban on Muslim headscarves in schools and naming streets and squares after notables of foreign origin.

In response to fears over growing racism and ethnic divisions in the country, it recommends emphasising the “Arab-Oriental” dimension of French identity, barring the media from mentioning a person’s ethnicity and promoting the teaching of Arabic and African languages in schools.

The report on how to better integrate France’s millions of citizens and residents of foreign origin was commissioned by Socialist Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault who plans to overhaul policy next year.

But it has drawn a furious reaction from the country’s conservative opposition, which said it amounted to an abandonment of French culture and secular values. “It will no longer be up to immigrants to adopt French culture but up to France to abandon its culture, its values, its history to adapt to the culture of others,” Jean-François Copé, leader of the UMP main opposition party, said.

The proposals include holding philosophical debates in primary schools to examine questions such as ethnicity, gender and religion and having less focus in school history books on “white, male, heterosexual” figures.

The text by a team of specially-appointed experts also suggests that school children should learn more about slavery and colonisation and that a Museum of Colonisation be created.

Mr Copé called for the the government to reject what Le Figaro newspaper dubbed a “shock report”, and accused Mr Ayrault of using it to “wave a red rag” at the French in order to boost the anti-immigrant National Front and weaken the UMP.

The opposition leader, who was a minister in ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy’s government, said the report was calling for a “total break with our vision of republican assimilation”, the model that requires immigrants to adopt French culture and leave their origins behind.

“I cannot accept that we abandon the idea of secularism to let religions dictate their law in the republic’s schools, that our language, French, be taught on the same level as the languages of the entire world…, that our common history be erased for the benefit of an impersonal and multiple history that champions all histories except the history of France,” said Mr Copé.

The prime minister shot back that Mr Copé was “irresponsible and a liar” and said he “obviously” did not plan to overturn the headscarf ban.

“Just because I receive reports does not necessarily mean that they are the position of the government,” said Mr Ayrault. But he insisted the government needed to look at ways to fight discrimination and inequality to “get the republican model of integration working again because it has broken down”.

The report has been posted on his official website and is due to form the basis of debates on integration he will begin in January.

Marine Le Pen, the Front National leader, said implementing its recommendations would be a “declaration of war on the French who are calling for an end to the policy of mass immigration and the reaffirmation of our republican laws and values”.

There was dissent within government ranks too, with Thierry Mandon, spokesman for the Socialist parliamentary group, saying some of the proposals were “hazardous”.

The headscarf ban has been in place since 2004 when a law was passed prohibiting the wearing or open display of religious symbols in all French schools, including crucifixes, Jewish skull caps and the hijab.

The report said the ban was “discriminatory” and “served as a justification of an extension of discriminatory practices in several sectors such as private companies and public services”.

France’s tradition of republican secularism, rooted in the 1789 revolution and reinforced by the separation of church and state at the start of the last century, has faced uncomfortable challenges from a growing Muslim minority.