In France’s Military, Muslims Find a Tolerance That Is Elusive Elsewhere

Of note, a rare success story of integration in France:

Gathered in a small mosque on a French military base in southern Lebanon, six soldiers in uniform stood with their heads bowed as their imam led them in prayer next to a white wall with framed paintings of Quranic verses.

After praying together on a recent Friday, the French soldiers — five men and one woman — returned to their duties on the base, where they had recently celebrated Ramadan, sometimes breaking their fast with Christians. Back home in France, where Islam and its place in society form the fault lines of an increasingly fractured nation, practicing their religion was never this easy, they said.

“The tolerance that we find in the armed forces, we don’t find it outside,” said Second Master Anouar, 31, who enlisted 10 years ago and who, in keeping with French military rules, could be identified only by his first name.

For the past two decades, as France’s Muslim population has sought a greater role in the nation, officials have often tried to restrict Islam’s public presence under an increasingly strict interpretation of French secularism, known as laïcité.

law aimed at the Muslim veil in 2004 banned the wearing of religious symbols in public schools, and prompted years of anguished debates over France’s treatment of its Muslim population, Europe’s largest. A new law against Islamism by President Emmanuel Macron is expected to strengthen government control over existing mosques and make it harder to build new ones.

But one major institution has gone in the opposite direction: the military.

The armed forces have carved out a place for Islam equal to France’s more established faiths — by hewing to a more liberal interpretation of laïcité. Imams became chaplains in 2005. Mosques have been built on bases in France and across the world, including in Deir Kifa, where some 700 French soldiers help a United Nations force keep peace in southern Lebanon. Halal rations are on offer. Muslim holidays are recognized. Work schedules are adjusted to allow Muslim soldiers to attend Friday Prayer.

The military is one of the institutions that has most successfully integrated Muslims, military officials and outside experts said, adding that it can serve as a model for the rest of France. Some drew parallels to the United States Army, which was ahead of the rest of American society in integrating Black Americans.

In a country where religious expression in government settings is banned — and where public manifestations of Islam are often described as threats to France’s unity, especially after a series of Islamist attacks since 2015 — the uncontested place of Islam in the military can be hard to fathom.

“My father, when I told him there was a Muslim chaplain, didn’t believe me,” said Corporal Lyllia, 22, who attended Friday Prayer wearing a veil.

“He asked me three times if I was sure,” she added. “He thought that a chaplain was necessarily Catholic or Protestant.”

Sergeant Azhar, 29, said he grew up facing discrimination as a Muslim and difficulty practicing his religion when he worked in a restaurant before joining the military. In the army, he said, he could practice his religion without being held in suspicion. Forced to live together, French of all backgrounds know more of one another than in the rest of society, he said.

“In an army, you have all religions, all colors, all origins,” he said. “So that allows for an open-mindedness you don’t find in civilian life.”

At the heart of the matter is laïcité, which separates church and state, and has long served as the bedrock of France’s political system. Enshrined in a 1905 law, laïcité guarantees the equality of all faiths.

But over the years, as Islam became France’s second biggest religion after Roman Catholicism, laïcité has increasingly been interpreted as guaranteeing the absence of religion in public space — so much so that the topic of personal faith is a taboo in the country.

Philippe Portier, a leading historian on laïcité, said there was a tendency in France “to tone down religion in all spheres of social encounter,” especially as officials advocate a stricter interpretation of laïcité to combat Islamism.

By contrast, the military increasingly views religion as essential to its own management, he said.

“Diversity is accepted because diversity will come to form the basis of cohesion,” he said, adding that, contrary to the thinking in many French institutions, the underlying rationale in the military was that “there can’t be cohesion if, at the same time, you don’t make compromises with the beliefs of individuals.”

Military officials said they had been sheltered from the politicization of laïcité that occurs in the rest of society.

“The right approach is to consider laïcité as a principle and not as an ideology,” said Jean-Jacques, the Muslim chaplain in Deir Kifa. When it becomes an ideology, he added, it “inevitably creates inequalities.”

The Rev. Carmine, the Protestant chaplain on the base, said that the army was proof that laïcité works as long as it is not manipulated. “Why do we talk so much about laïcité in recent years in France?” he said. “It’s often to create problems.”

A 2019 French Defense Ministry report on laïcité in the military concluded that freedom of religious expression does not undermine the army’s social cohesion or performance. In contrast to how laïcité has been carried out elsewhere in society, the report promotes “a peaceful laïcité” that can “continue adapting itself to the country’s social realities.”

“The liberal model of laïcité that the military embodies is a laïcité of intelligence, a laïcité of fine-tuning,” said Eric Germain, an adviser on military ethics and religious issues at the ministry, who oversaw the report.

Mr. Germain said the military has been faithful to the 1905 law, which states that to safeguard freedom of worship, chaplaincy services are legitimate in certain enclosed public places, like prisons, hospitals and military facilities. The state has a moral responsibility to provide professionalized religious support to its military, he added.

The integration of Muslims into the military mirrored France’s long and complicated relationship with the Islamic world.

Muslim men from France’s colonial empire served as soldiers as far back as the 1840s, said Elyamine Settoul, an expert on Muslims and the French military at the Paris-based National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts. Early last century, there were fitful attempts to cater to Muslim soldiers’ religious needs, including the appointment of a Muslim chaplain, though for only three years, Mr. Settoul said. After World War II, the independence movement in France’s colonies, coupled with a general mistrust of Islam, put the efforts on hold.

The issue could no longer be ignored in the 1990s, as the end of mandatory military service was announced in 1996, and as the military began huge recruitment efforts in working-class areas. Children of Muslim immigrants from former French colonies became overrepresented, and now Muslims are believed to account for 15 to 20 percent of troops, or two to three times the Muslim share of the total French population.

Unequal treatment of Muslim cohorts fueled “a discourse of victimization in the ranks” and a recourse to identity politics, Mr. Settoul said. The lack of alternatives to meals with pork, which are forbidden in Islam, created “tensions and divides” and even led to fights, he said.

Catholic, Protestant and Jewish chaplains had formally served in the French military since the 1880s. But a century later, there were still no Muslim chaplains to cater to the needs of frontline soldiers, who often had to turn to Catholic chaplains.

1990 report commissioned by the Defense Ministry highlighted the risks of internal divisions unless the army gave equal treatment to its Muslim soldiers.

Despite what Mr. Settoul described as a lingering suspicion of Islam, the military incorporated Muslim chaplains in 2005 — around the same time that other parts of French society went the other way, banning the Muslim veil and other religious symbols in public schools. That began a process of integrating Muslims ahead of “the rest of society,” Mr. Settoul said.

In 2019, there were 36 active-duty imams, or about 17 percent of all chaplains. There were also 125 Catholic priests, 34 Protestant pastors and 14 rabbis.

The soldiers at Friday Prayer, ranging from their early 20s to their early 40s, were all children of immigrants. They grew up listening to their parents or grandparents talk of praying in makeshift premises before mosques were built in their cities. Some had mothers or other female relatives who still faced suspicion because they wore veils.

Sergeant Mohamed, 41, enlisted two decades ago, a couple of years before the first Muslim chaplains. He recalled how it had become easier to fully practice his religion in the army. While Muslim soldiers had been given large rooms to gather in and pray, they now had access to mosques.

In the army, Sgt. Mohamed said he could take a paid day off on Eid al-Fitr, the celebration marking the end of Ramadan.

“My father worked for 35 years, and every boss deducted eight hours of work,” he said, adding that his father, who immigrated from Algeria four decades ago, never imagined that his children would be able to practice their religion in the army. “In 40 years, there’s been amazing progress after all.”

Perhaps more than anything, the integration of Islam amounted to a recognition of his place in the army, Sgt. Mohamed said.

“The fuel of the soldier is recognition,” he said. “And when there is recognition of our faith, it’s as though you’re filling up our tanks.”

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/26/world/europe/in-frances-military-muslims-find-a-tolerance-that-is-elusive-elsewhere.html?action=click&module=In%20Other%20News&pgtype=Homepage

Immigration and integration: Germany debates terminology

Important and significant debate (moving towards the Canadian definition of integration):

For 15 years now, the term used by German statisticians and politicians alike to denote foreigners and their descendants has been “people with a migration background.”

That was the label given to people who weren’t born into German citizenship. And to people whose mothers or fathers were not born German citizens. Today, that applies to a quarter of the population.

After two years of discussing how Germany could better acknowledge its status as a society of immigration, a specialist commission of 24 politicians and academics appointed by the government has submitted its report to Chancellor Angela Merkel. One of its recommendations is to stop using the terms “migration background” or “immigrant background.”

‘Simply be Germans’

People should use the term “immigrants and their descendants,” commission chair Derya Caglar said. “In my case, this would mean that I am no longer the migrant, but rather the daughter or descendant of migrants.”

Caglar, a member of Berlin’s city-state legislature for the Social Democrats (SPD), said her parents had immigrated from Turkey but she was born here. “And my children, who are currently defined as having a migration background, would simply be Germans,” she said.

The German government’s commissioner for integration, Annette Widmann-Mauz, of the Christian Democrats (CDU), is in favor of the change. The term “migration background” encompasses so many groups now that it has lost much of its meaning, Widmann-Mauz said.

“Many of the 21 million people to which the term is applied do not feel appropriately described by it,” she said. Widmann-Mauz said nearly one-third of people to whom the term “migration background” is applied were born in Germany. The term, she said, gives the impression “that they would never belong here 100%, that immigration was their defining characteristic.”

Merkel: ‘Opulent opus’

Over 240 pages, the report articulates 14 core messages. Topics include social housing, greater efforts to combat racism and hate crimes, and equal education and health opportunities. In Germany, according to the report, integration is a “permanent task affecting everybody.”

Caglar said some of the recommendations would “require patience and a long-term strategy.” Others, she said, “don’t require much adjustment at all.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her gratitude for the “opulent opus”, saying it provided politicians with “much expertise.”

“As a result of the wave of immigration between 2013 and 2015-16, we have a mountain of tasks in front of us, requiring a great deal of integration work,” Merkel said. “This challenge, it must be said, will not get easier in the near future, because we are experiencing great economic tensions as a result of the pandemic.”

Merkel said recent immigrants were often among the first to feel the effects of a country’s economic difficulties. “Therefore,” she said, “we will have to pay great attention to the issue of integration and immigration in the coming years so that our efforts were not in vain.”

Coronavirus as amplifier

Labor Minister Hubertus Heil, of the SPD, said the pandemic had shown how dependent Germany is on immigration. “The coronavirus crisis acted as a magnifying glass,” he said. “In many areas, we have a shortage of specialist workers.” To fix this, he said, Germany would have to harness its domestic potential for training specialists. “But, at the same time, we also need specialists from elsewhere in Europe and so-called third countries,” he said. “We see this not just in hospitals and care professions, but also on building sites and in the trades.”

That German is a country of immigration has become the consensus among politicians, business leaders and across society.

The only party to question this in the Bundestag is the Alternative for Germany (AfD), which is also the biggest opposition grouping. It wants to apply strict limits to immigration. Within the commission, not everyone could agree on issues of migration and integration. And the final report also reflects opposing views in the section “dissenting opinion.” This also applies to the new term “immigrants and their descendants.” Like the ethnic minorities it is designed to describe, the expression “migration background,” is likely to stick around.

Source: Immigration and integration: Germany debates terminology

Immigrants’ occupational segregation in France: “brown-collar” jobs or a Sub-Saharan African disadvantage?

Unfortunately behind a paywall but looks interesting:

Large-scale labour migration is considered a recent phenomenon in most European countries; however, immigrants have been an integral part of the French labour-force nearly as long as in the United States. Numerous studies document Sub-Saharan African immigrants’ employment and wage disadvantages in France; however, few investigate an important aspect of Sub-Saharan African immigrants’ integration – occupational segregation. Using 2011 French census data, I examine Sub-Saharan African immigrants’ occupational segregation. I find that all immigrants are concentrated, but only Sub-Saharan Africans are concentrated in low-skilled work regardless of citizenship. Department-level regression analyses measuring occupational segregation show that after controlling for socioeconomic characteristics, Sub-Saharan Africans are most segregated. Control variables explain less of Sub-Saharan African women’s segregation than any other group indicating that they experience more discrimination in the labour market than even Sub-Saharan African men. Future research using longitudinal data is needed to determine if these results reflect a persistent disadvantage.

Source: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01419870.2019.1686162?journalCode=rers20

Immigrant acculturation and wellbeing in Canada: John Berry and Feng Hou

Another informative study by John Berry and Feng You showing that an acculturation and integration strategy that involves a strong sense of belonging both to Canada and the country of origin tends to result in higher levels of well-being:

Consistent with much of the research on acculturation strategies, we found that the integration strategy (in the present case, a strong sense of belonging to the two countries) was by far the most preferred strategy. This general preference for integration has been found in many previous studies (reviewed by Berry, 1997). This preference for integration is observed even when the assessment of these strategies is operationalised in very different ways (Berry & Sabatier, 2011; Snauwaert, Soenens, Vanbeselaere, & Boen, 2003). However, both these authors also found that that these differing operationalisations provided varying estimates for the extent of preference for each strategy. In the present study, even when using only the two dimensions of sense of belonging, and having only one question for each dimension, this approach seems to have provided results that are consistent with much of the research literature: integration is by far the most preferred strategy.
The relationship between the two belonging dimensions was examined by a simple correlation. We found this to be .13, which, while significant, does not indicate that they assess the same phenomenon. Berry et al. (2006), using two cultural identities (ethnic and national) in their study of immigrant youth, found a similar positive correlation between these two identities. In the 13 countries in the sample combined, the overall correlation was .17, ranging across societies of settlement from highs of .32 to a low of .28. The overall pattern was for positive correlations to be in “settlement societies” (such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States) and negative in all other societies. This is a well-established finding in the acculturation literature, particularly in traditional immigrant-receiving countries such as Australia, Canada and the United States (e.g., Benet-Martinez, 2011; Berry, 1997; Berry et al., 2006; Costigan, Su, & Hua, 2009; Snauwaert et al., 2003).
Having created these four acculturation strategies, we attempted to assess what factors might be related to each of them. With integration taken as the control, we found patterns of demographic and social factors that are associated with each of the other three strategies.
  • Those in the assimilation group: had resided longer in Canada, had immigrated earlier in their lives, were more likely to be in the labour force, had lower bonding with their own cultural community, and were more likely to be divorced or separated. These latter two associations seem to represent a way of living in Canada that is one of living alone, and not being linked to their cultural community.
  • Those in the separation group resided in Canada for a shorter period of time; this could well represent a lag in coming to learn about and feel part of their new society. Previous research has shown this phenomenon both longitudinally (Ho, 1995) and cross-sectionally (Berry et al., 2006). Those pursuing separation were also more likely to have experienced discrimination; this finding may be an example of the phenomenon of “reactive identification” (which was referred to earlier), where individuals who feel rejected reciprocate this feeling and reject those who are the source of discrimination. This seems to represent a way of living in Canada of turning inward toward one’s own group, at least in the short term.
  • Those in the marginalisation group were more likely to be underemployed and have a lower income, were very likely to have come to Canada in the family or dependent class, and more likely to be widowed or never married. This seems to represent a way of living in Canada that, while being initially tied to a family, they now are more alone in both their economic and family situation. These patterns of association between acculturation strategies and demographic and social factors are the most common ones to be found in the literature (see Sam & Berry, 2016 for an overview).

The main focus in this study is on the wellbeing of immigrants, and whether their wellbeing can be associated with their acculturation strategy, as well as with these demographic and social factors.

First, we found that in keeping with much of the previous literature, including numerous individual studies (e.g., Berry et al., 2006) and a metaanalysis (Nguyen & Benet-Martinez, 2013), the integration acculturation strategy was associated with higher levels of wellbeing (both life satisfaction and mental health) compared to the other three strategies. This remained the case when the scores were adjusted for the demographic and social control variables that also have impact on wellbeing.

Also in keeping with much of the research literature, marginalisation was associated with the poorest levels of wellbeing.

This pattern adds to the growing evidence that when immigrants remain attached to their heritage culture, and also become involved in their new society, they achieve a greater level of wellbeing. In sharp contrast, when they are disengaged from both cultures, lacking bonding and bridging capital, they have poorer outcomes.

The present study confirmed that integration is associated with higher wellbeing. This pattern shows that being involved in both the heritage culture and in the larger society (by way of integration) promotes life satisfaction.

The research carried out on the relationship between social interactions and wellbeing in a variety of samples (Jetten, Haslam, Haslam, & Branscombe, 2009; Jetten et al., 2015) provides a broader context within which to interpret this relationship: Being engaged in and identifying with many social groups provides a basis for wellbeing. This consistent finding with immigrant samples seems to be a specific example of this general pattern.

Of particular important is the finding that the effects of acculturation strategy was larger than the social and demographic factors that are often held to account for wellbeing (Helliwell, Layard, & Sachs, 2016).

Immigrant acculturation and wellbeing in Canada

Canada ranked 3rd in integrating newcomers

The Annual MIPEX (international Migrant Integration Policy Index), showing Canada in third place. Canada gets lower marks for political integration as we do not provide permanent residents with municipal voting rights. However, our citizenship requirements allow more permanent residents to become citizens in less time than many of the other countries ranked higher in political integration.

Canada ranked 3rd in integrating newcomers | Toronto Star.

France slides right on immigration

The continuing slide to the right in France’s immigration and integration policies, likely to be counterproductive in a country that has largely failed in integration.

What seems lost on the republicans, however, is that as coercion takes the place of persuasion, young Muslims are showing even greater fervour for their faith than their parents. But with a population of five million Muslims expected to near seven million in a decade or so, few politicians appear willing to defy public opinion by abandoning the stick for the carrot….

As Dominique Reynié, director of the Foundation for Political Innovation, observed in Le Monde: “Twenty years ago, Valls’s remarks on the Roma would have come from [Front National founder] Jean-Marie Le Pen. In 2010, president Sarkozy’s remarks were shocking. In 2013, worse language emanates from the Socialist Interior Minister. Almost 80 per cent of French voters agree with him. President Hollande shows his de facto support. It is a testimony to the rightward slide of the [political] landscape. All of France is hardening.”

France slides right on immigration – The Globe and Mail.

Le tiers des immigrants allophones en repli culturel | MARIE ALLARD | Montréal

Interesting. Higher than I would have thought, but interesting more of an issue for Eastern European origin than the Magreb. Macro Canadian studies show comparable levels between foreign and Canadian born for most citizenship indicators (voting, volunteership, charitable donations etc) but have not seen comparable study for English Canada along lines of this one.

Le tiers des immigrants allophones en repli culturel | MARIE ALLARD | Montréal.