Thursday, November 10, 2005

Citizens of the State, not Members of the Nation

John Vinocur and many American commentators are simply asking too much of French society.

Of course France is a racist society. How could it not be? Governmental, media and academic elites cannot remake centuries of culture and identity over the course of one generation by wishful thinking and mass marketing.

In 1900 France was as it had been for hundreds of years. Political and economic systems may have come and gone but France remained a nation of ethnically French Catholics who spoke French. Despite regional differences it was, by today’s standards, mono-ethnic, mono-lingual, mono-religious and mono-cultural. (Jews were small and disliked minority. Protestants were a largely regional and disliked minority. Both groups spoke French and were visually indistinguishable from other French. Muslims were rare oddities in a few big cities.)

In the decades after the War (quite suddenly in terms of the life of the nation) the French government allowed immigration from non-European, non-Christian countries. The “guest workers” did not interact with native French, except in the highly structured environment of industrial labor. A Frenchman born in 1945 could still have lived with very limited interaction with non-native, non-European immigrants. In the sixties the governing elites developed an ideology for keeping the immigrants and their descendents in the ‘suburbs’ but this ideology was just a Leftist veneer on segregation. A French child born in 1965 would have grown up in a society where the general, unspoken assumptions of life had changed but were still recognizable to his grandparents and great grandparents: the value and superiority of French culture; the beauty and power of the French language; the supremacy of French esthetics and cuisine; the centrality of French Catholicism, if not spiritually then at least ceremonially.

Into this society the elites are asking the French people to accept people who are clearly non-French, ethnically, culturally, and religiously, as if they were French. A society that used to argue over regional accents is asked to treat as French people who speak with heavy foreign accents, if they speak French at all. Are they just supposed to acquiesce to the collapse of the French nationality into the mere legalism of a passport?

Where exactly in French history and culture, except in the daydreams of bureaucrats, does the average Frenchmen get the resources to recognize and treat a second generation Tunisian Muslim as French? How does this second generation Tunisian Muslim recognize himself as French? French culture, like many cultures, views itself as the pinnacle of human development. The French have for centuries looked down on other Europeans. How then does anyone realistically expect them to change the definition of French-ness to accept 5 million people who their forebears would have seen, without question, as foreigners?

When it comes to racial attitudes, the US is the exception. France is the rule. Japan, China and Korea are just as racist, if not more so, but of course they didn’t let in 5 million North Africans. Turks are horribly racists against the Kurds. Who thinks they would treat 5 million white Christian immigrants any better? Look at how the Egyptians treat the Copts who are ethnically and linguistically identical to the majority. Why is France different?

This is not to excuse European racism. However, the countries of Europe are not administrative sectors on a map (despite the fantasies of EU managers). They are Nation-States; the products of historical forces over long periods of time. We sometimes confuse the two terms, Nation and State, because they have been joined in our minds for so long but they are quite different. The immigrants who live in France are citizens of a sovereign network of governing institutions known as the French State. They are not members of the ethno-linguistic-cultural group known as the French Nation. They will never be.

The definition of Frenchness cannot be changed by government declaration or newspaper columnists or the conscious, deliberate actions of well-meaning people. It took centuries of wars, revolutions, and purges; of literature and artistic achievement; of liguistic and religions evolution; of the slow accretion of traditions to define Frenchness. It is not subject to engineering or manipulation.

It is long passed time to be realistic. The prospect of integrating millions of non-Europeans into European nation-states is far more daunting and complex than the Euro-elites ever imagined. One does not change the modern expression of an ancient culture by fiat.

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