A new op-ed posted on the French news-site “Le Monde” today offered a cutting criticism of France’s ideas of nationality tied to ethnic background. The article delves into the twenty year history of the idea of “communautarisme,” a concept foreign to USians, which has become a pejoratif term for the subjugation of a majority to the aspects of a minority culture. (Think: the extra costs it takes for a school cafeteria to accommodate vegetarian or Halal food.) The article traces the modern negativity towards multiculturalism through the burning issue of women wearing the veil in public (in public schools, offices, etc.) and the debate it ensued in the 1990s and to recent dialogue and reactionary language to the attacks in Brussels and Paris.
While this “allergy” to “communautarism” has modern ramifications, the article’s author Anne Chemin points out that the idea of a monocultural France can be traced back to the French Revolution from 1789-1799.
Indeed, many fundamentals and symbols of French national identity are tied to monoculturalism. In the USA, we have jus soli–citizenship determined by the land upon which one is born. (Remember the debate of Obama’s birth certificate and place of birth?) In France, the system is jus sanguinis–citizenship is determined by the nationality of one’s parents (and often grandparents). Furthermore, the red of the French flag is symbolic of blood-relations. Likewise, the last part of the French motto refers to “brotherhood.” The idea of purity of blood is further cemented to primary French national identity in the repeated chorus of La Marseillaise, the French national anthem: “To arms, citizens!…Let [their] impure blood soak our fields.” (Aux armes, citoyens!…Qu’un sang impur abreuve nos sillons.)
Miss Anne Chemin concludes that “France is a prisoner to a vicious cycle” in which discrimination against minorities leads to their withdrawal from public life and political action, which feeds more of public and political discrimination that victimises them further.
This article is a must-read for anyone in need of an introduction to the struggles of ethnic minorities in France, with the struggles and xenophobia there echoing throughout Europe and the West. For those familiar with the material, it presents a cogent articulation and analysis of the “nationalism” issues France faces today: A good review of contemporary social issues for any Francophile.
Read the full text: “Le Communautarisme, mythes et réalités”