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January 01, 2006
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January 01, 2006




Page: 13/26

Home > 2006 Issues > January 01, 2006


The Moving Finger Writes
Racism in France

M.V.Kamath

What would the world have said if rampaging youth all over India had almost simultaneously set fire to over 6,000 cars, destroyed scores of buildings, shopping malls and schools and smashing whatever came in their way? That India was a land of lawlessness? That Indian police were inefficient in maintaining law and order? The world would have laughed at India. But when such incidents happened in France, the press has been remarkably silent. Comment has been low-key. It is as if the media is almost embarrassed at what happened in France in the first ten days of November.

France is vastly different from Britain. But, like Britain, France has allowed people from its ex-colonies to settle within its borders. It is the price that former imperial powers have to pay for their colonial sins. France, also, is unique in many ways. Though it is largely a Catholic country, the state is very proud of its brand of secularism. Indeed, few countries in the world can be said to maintain a more rigourous neutral posture as regards all religions. For example, no religious instruction in allowed is state schools. It is said individuals are not officially allowed to overtly proclaim their religious affiliation in school premises. In France everyone is equal and indistinguishable in the eyes of the state. The claim is made that no matter where people come from all French citizens, White, Black, Brown, Christian, Muslim or Jews are identical in their Frenchness. It is a principle born out of the ideals of the 1789 revolution. Theoretically, it is an admirable situation. But in actual practice things are different.

A French analyst, honest to the core has been quoted as saying: ?Our approach to integration, based on the concept that every one is equal, is part of the problem. That concept is fiction. Ethnic minorities are being told they don?t exist.?

The general belief is that the French are not as colour conscious as many other white nations are. But the recent riots have shown what the true situation is.

Mosques have proliferated in France, thanks largely to oil money from the Middle East. But has the average Frenchman learnt his lesson from the November events? Has the Government? Is there a way out of cultural separatism?

It happened when two youngsters of North Africa origin tried to seek refuge in an electrical sub-station to escape pursuing policemen. They inevitably got electrocuted. Suddenly the dams of ethnic persecution broke and in an unprecedented wave of violence, angry mobs, mainly of North African Arab and Black immigrant youth went on a rampage, turning a run-down northern suburb of Paris literally into a battlefield, the entire area being littered with shells of shattered cars, charred garbage bins, shards of glass and empty soda and beer bottles. That the anger of these immigrant people continued with vehemence for ten long days is an indication of their pent-up rage against the manner in which they have long been treated. Suddenly, as it were, French liberalism as the world has known it, stood exposed.

Though statistics based on ethnicity or religion are banned in France, it is generally believed that there are about six to seven million immigrants and their descendants living in the country, most of them in ghettos of which, it is said, there are some 750 known as ?Sensitive Urban Zones?. These are areas where immigrant Muslim Africans live in sub-human conditions with no prospect of climbing up the social scale. Known as ?Beurs?, they are associated perhaps unjustly, with a multitude of sins, including thievery, consumer envy, laziness, loitering with intent, drugs, violence, vandalism, illiteracy and incompetence. The White French would like to forget them, but they can?t. They are there and they cannot be thrown out. Unlike the Blacks in the United States, these so-called ?Beurs? are outsiders. Unemployment among them is very high, ranging from 25 to 40 per cent, depending on where they live.

Income levels, in the circumstances, are pretty low, no more than 40 per cent of the national level of 10,500 Euros.

One French authority has been quoted as saying: ?Many youths have never seen their parents work and couldn?t hold down a job if they got one.? And entrepreneurship is foreign to their nature. An Indian, poor and penniless, may go any where in the world and within his own lifetime he would have set up a business and contributed to the national income in substantial measure. That is so evident in Britain where Indians have made their mark and have risen in stature. It is said their per capita contribution to Britain?s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is four times higher than the national average. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of the African Muslim immigrant in France. He is at the mercy of the government which has relied largely on expensive measures to keep the poor, mostly Muslim, fed, housed and educated.

The trouble is, the more a person is dependent on government, the less he becomes acceptable to society. A mayor of a Paris suburb is quoted as saying: ?We have combined the failure of our integration model with the worst effects of ghettoisation, without a social ladder for people to climb.?

The immigrant African Muslim is a marginalised citizen, very often denied even the vote. He is new in a state of revolt. The trouble is that he does not know which way to turn. Many of the immigrants came to serve in the post-Second World War industrial boom when cheap labor was much sought after. One such immigrant has been quoted as a saying: ?When I came to France to work in an automobile plant, I left behind tremendous poverty. My generation was prepared to put up with racism, insults and humiliation... We cannot help our colour or facial features. The French continue to think of us as former colonised natives. You know there is a great deal of racism here. The Arabs and the Blacks get the worst end of the stick.? Inevitably this has led to increase in crime among the immigrants. They can?t go back to their ancestral homes. And they are not wanted in France. The result is recourse to violence at the slightest provocation. And sometimes to drug-trafficking. White nations are ill-prepared to accept multiculturism; for that matter, so are Muslims. A French Muslim is a contradiction in terms. One is either French or Muslim. One can?t be both. It will be interesting to watch how France ultimately resolves the paradox. It is said that a Frenchman can do without a church but a Muslim cannot do without a mosque. Mosques have proliferated in France, thanks largely to oil money from the Middle East. But has the average Frenchman learnt his lesson from the November events? Has the Government? Is there a way out of cultural separatism? The French lived in Arab North Africa as rulers; the North African Arabs now in France live as poor immigrants. And therein lies all the difference. To expect peaceful co-existence between ex-rulers and the Muslims they once ruled over is to expect the impossible.




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