France’s Real Crisis Is About More Than Just Refugees | TIME

More on the French integration challenges and how laïcité has not helped:

“France is a diverse open minded society, but France also as a collective country has a dark history that they have to acknowledge. But not it’s really just about looking at the past, but facing up to the past in order to claim a common future. That’s still missing in France,” says Amel Boubekeur, a researcher on European Islamic issues at Grenoble University. “I believe that it is something that the U.K. has dealt with much more successfully than France, though it wasn’t the same experience—it was a less violent one. “

France utterly rejected the notion that being French included women covering their heads. Enshrined in its laws is the concept of laicité, or secularization. France moved to protect its culture and in the years since has, for the most part, banned Muslim girls from wearing headscarves to school. To level the playing field, they also banned Christian and Jewish symbols, including yarmulkes. Almost every year since there have been French-Muslim protests to allow their girls to wear foulards to school. The protests ebbed and flowed with the news: after the invasion of Iraq they found new life and have only grown since.

But this enforced secularism isn’t unique to France. In 2009, Antwerp in Belgium moved to ban foulards in schools, a move that spread across Belgium, though not uniformly. At the same time, a new Islamist group, Sharia4Belgium, flourished by opposing the prohibitions on head scarves in the name of religious and civil liberties. The ban “was a major rally point for organizations like Sharia4Belgium,” says Guy Van Vlierden, editor of a blog on Belgian foreign fighters. “A lot of spontaneous action started for that. That has driven a lot of young people into the arms of terrorism, that’s very clear.”

Sharia4Belgium, like many French extremist recruiters and imams, preyed on the immigrants’ sense of not belonging—of unsuccessful assimilation—even when those immigrants were second or third generation. It was the sense of being robbed of their “roots” that set the Kouachi brothers down their destructive path toward Al-Qaeda, that would prove fatal for the employees of Charlie Hebdo.

Europe is a society still grappling with its minority groups, even thousands of years later; just look at the Catalonian and Scottish pushes for independence. It’s also a continent of ancient, beautiful cultures that are fighting to survive within the bigger entity of the European Union; many of the things that make a nation a nation have been subsumed: currency, borders, even to some degree, military action. One means of resistance for France is to protect, at all costs, what makes French people French at a time when its cultural traditions seem under threat — both from the top, with the economic necessity of the European Union, and from the bottom, with the waves of immigrants, and the foulards in the schools. In an increasingly existential crisis, France is attempting to assimilate by force: no foulards, expel radical imams, speak French not Arabic, learn the Marseillaise. But the more they win, the more they lose.

“There has to be some nurturing otherwise people feel like second class citizens, when they’re only invited to speak out against terrorism but say nothing else,” says Boubekeur. “They will say: ‘I have other opinions, other voices and I have the right to express opinions that aren’t loyal to France if I want to do so.’ When you can’t speak to the mainstream, you withdraw from the mainstream.” Culture wars have no winners.

Source: France’s Real Crisis Is About More Than Just Refugees | TIME

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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