French presidential election turns to question of identity

The race to become the next president of France is becoming a referendum on what it means to be French.

As voters prepare to head to the polls Sunday for the Républicains’ primary—which could ultimately determine the next president—the rhetoric at rallies and debates has increasingly focused on whether France’s secular values are compatible with its Muslim population—one of Europe’s biggest.

The election of Donald Trump has emboldened far-right presidential contender Marine Le Pen, who is campaigning against France’s socialists and conservatives on an anti-immigrant, antitrade platform similar to the U.S. president-elect’s. That message has helped keep her near the top of the polls after two years of blistering terror attacks carried out by foreign and French citizens, as well as a huge wave of migrants from the Middle East.

The cascade of events has left France’s political establishment at a crossroads: Reject Ms. Le Pen ’s rhetoric or co-opt it. The divide is especially striking within the conservative Républicains. Polls show the winner would be the strongest contender—and likely win—against Ms. Le Pen in the spring election. Socialist President François Hollande ’s unpopularity, meanwhile, would make him unlikely get past the first round of voting if he runs again. The outgoing president would also face his former Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron, who declared Wednesday he will run for president on a pledge to break apart France’s political system.

Bordeaux Mayor Alain Juppé, the front-runner in the race to win the conservatives’ nomination, embodies one path with talk of a “happy identity” for the French, grounded in respect for religious and ethnic diversity. He has responded to Mr. Trump’s victory by pledging to lead a broad coalition against the National Front.

The other route—espoused by his chief party rival, former President Nicolas Sarkozy —creates a litmus test for those French Muslims and other minorities he says are trampling the nation’s identity and security.

“I don’t believe in a happy identity when I see young people—born, raised and educated in France—who are less integrated than their grandparents, who were not French,” Mr. Sarkozy said over the weekend.

Even before Mr. Trump’s victory, Mr. Sarkozy’s rhetoric had taken a turn for the hard-right in an attempt to draw support from Ms. Le Pen’s base.

The former French leader has proposed that France detain thousands of people who are on intelligence watch lists but have never been charged. He has also decried a “latent form of civil war” that he blames on French nationals who descended from immigrants but failed to assimilate. To fix this, Mr. Sarkozy proposes re-centering public-school curricula on French history, geography and law.

“From the moment you become French, your ancestors are the Gauls,” Mr. Sarkozy told a rally in September, referring to the Celtic tribes that, in the Iron Age, inhabited territory that now is modern France.

Identity has long been a topic of tense debate in France, but it bubbled over after the terror attacks a year ago, when Mr. Hollande proposed stripping dual-nationals of their French citizenship if they were convicted of terrorism. The proposed constitutional amendment, which failed to become law, drove a further wedge in Mr. Hollande’s Socialist Party, which was already split on his handling of the economy. He is polling so low that many of his allies question whether he will seek re-election.

Mr. Hollande’s proposal represented a major shift in French politics, because it was borrowed from Ms. Le Pen, whose policies have long been anathema to the French left. The political lines were further blurred this summer when Mr. Hollande’s prime minister, Manuel Valls, supported attempts from right-wing mayors to ban head-to-foot “burkini” swimsuits from beaches.

“Whether on the right, the far-right or the left, there is a more and more authoritarian vision—an idea that norms and values should be imposed,” said Patrick Simon, senior researcher at the French Institute for Demographic Studies.

Polls predict Ms. Le Pen would easily get through the first round of the 2017 general election. But with the backing of about a third of French voters, Ms. Le Pen appears to lack enough support to win the second round. Given the Socialist Party’s struggles to field a viable candidate, whoever becomes the Republicans’ nominee is likely to face Ms. Le Pen in a runoff and win.

For now, Mr. Juppé has the advantage over Mr. Sarkozy. Polls show François Fillon, a former Prime Minister campaigning on a pro-business platform, has closed in on Mr. Sarkozy in recent days, while the four other primary candidates trail further behind. A poll of 714 people likely to vote in the primaries—taken by KANTAR Sofres OnePoint last week—said Mr. Juppé would win 59% of the vote in a head-to-head runoff with Mr. Sarkozy.

In a bid to make up ground, Mr. Sarkozy has tacked further to the right, seizing on Mr. Juppé’s calls for tolerance.

“We are diverse, we don’t have the same religion, the same skin color, or the same origins. This diversity must be respected,” Mr. Juppé said in the first televised debate in October.

Mr. Sarkozy retorted with a call for assimilation, a term rooted in France’s colonial system of training local elites to absorb French language and culture, and later used to describe how European immigrants melded into French society between the two world wars.

If elected, Mr. Sarkozy has pledged to require anyone seeking French citizenship to sign an “assimilation pact” committing them to adopt French values and culture. He has also proposed cutting welfare benefits to women who ignore bans on face-covering veils. Simple head scarves, Mr. Sarkozy says, should also be banned on university campuses.

Mr. Sarkozy says he plans to hold public referendums to override constitutional rights that allow immigrants to bring family members to France and prevent authorities from detaining people on intelligence watch lists before getting a court order.

Mr. Juppé’s “happy identity” is rooted in the idea of integration, which replaced assimilation as a model for immigrants from former colonies settling in France. Under integration, France is open to diversity as long as immigrants adopt the country’s core values of equality, liberty and fraternity.

Mr. Juppé says France should stop legislating on the issue of religious clothing. Mr. Sarkozy’s plan to suspend the right for legal migrants to bring their families to France, Mr. Juppe says, is “not a humane attitude.”

New Book: The Oxford Handbook of European Islam (Jocelyne Cesari, Editor)

European Islam CoverThe Oxford Handbook of European Islam is the first collection to present a comprehensive approach to the multiple and changing ways Islam has been studied across European countries. Parts one to three address the state of knowledge of Islam and Muslims within a selection of European countries, while presenting a critical view of the most up-to-date data specific to each country. These chapters analyse the immigration cycles and policies related to the presence of Muslims, tackling issues such as discrimination, post-colonial identity, adaptation, and assimilation. The thematic chapters, in parts four and five, examine secularism, radicalization, Shari’a, Hijab, and Islamophobia with the goal of synthesizing different national discussion into a more comparative theoretical framework. The Handbook attempts to balance cutting edge assessment with the knowledge that the content itself will eventually be superseded by events. Featuring eighteen newly-commissioned essays by noted scholars in the field, this volume will provide an excellent resource for students and scholars interested in European Studies, immigration, Islamic studies, and the sociology of religion.

Press Release from Bertrand Dutheil de la Rocher, Republic-Secularism Advisor to Marine Le Pen

Bertrand Dutheil de la Rocher released a press statement discussing Islam in France. He states, “In recent days, discussions are circulating in social networks about Islam in France that involve the Marine Blue Gathering. The law is of a contingent nature. Its extent and its contents are decided according to the common good, variable at different times, by the people, either directly or through their elected representatives.” He reminded the public that “individual liberties are only restricted by necessity…Religious liberty is therefore a right so long as it does not contradict republican law and does not harm others. It’s up to every religion to conform to these conditions of secularism. However, no one can forget that for centuries, the genius of the French nation has expressed itself through Catholicism, notably in its Gallican and Jansenist readings.”

He added that “It’s up to Muslims of France to adapt their religious practices in accepting that, in the public sphere, the contingent law of the Republic is above the law of God, even if they think it is of a transcendent nature.” He stated that every religion’s funding must come from its believers, it cannot come from public money nor from grants from abroad. “To combat secularism is to undermine the social contract and attack citizens who have other metaphysical ideas. The Republic must defend itself against the risk of subversion,” he added. “The fact that there is no clergy in Sunnism risks to encourage its believers huddle in communitarianism,” he said, “ so they do not find themselves isolated in uncertainty and facing their responsibilities, especially when crimes are committed in the name of their faith.”

“With Marine Le Pen, the Marine Blue Gathering wants to assimilate all Frenchmen into the same people beyond their religion and origins. In order for this assimilation to take place, it is necessary to immediately halt all immigration, illegal of course, but also legal. With the country facing mass unemployment, France cannot give newcomers the basics. We must also fight the nation’s denigration by its elites. All Frenchmen must be proud to be French, proud of their French history. The ownership of each person of the national novel is a condition of citizenship. The school must again become a place for the transmission of knowledge,” he concluded.

Demand for US-born imams up as mosques struggle to retain new generation of American Muslims

Mustafa UmarANAHEIM, Calif. — Mustafa Umar, an imam in Southern California, is popular with the Muslim teenagers who attend his mosque. They pepper him with questions about sensitive topics like marijuana use, dating and pornography.

Umar, 31, is a serious Islamic scholar who has studied the Quran in the Middle East, Europe and India — but he’s also a native Californian, who is well-versed in social media and pop culture, and can connect with teens on their own terms.

That pedigree is rare — 85 percent of fulltime, paid imams in the U.S. are foreign-born — but the demand for people like him is growing as American Muslim leaders look for ways to keep the religion relevant for young people in a secular country that cherishes freedom of expression.

“The demand for American-born imams is an articulation of something much deeper,” said Timur Yuskaev, director of the Islamic chaplaincy program at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, which educates Islamic faith leaders.

“It’s a realization that assimilation is happening and it’s going to happen. Now, how do we control it, how do we channel it?” he said. “These congregations, if they do not provide the services that the congregants expect, then they will not survive.”

Abdel Rahman Murphy, a 25-year-old assistant imam in Knoxville, Tenn., is striking that balance with his newly founded Muslim youth group called Roots. Kids play sports, battle it out in video-game playing contests or strut in a girls’ Muslim fashion show with the tongue-in-cheek title “Cover Girl.”

Murphy, the son of an Egyptian immigrant mother and an Irish-American convert, was kicked out of a private Islamic middle school and strayed from the faith in high school — an experience he always keeps in mind.

“We can’t change what’s inside the package, but we can repackage it,” said Murphy, who tweets about college basketball and his faith.

Don’t Fear Islamic Law in America

MORE than a dozen American states are considering outlawing aspects of Shariah law. Some of these efforts would curtail Muslims from settling disputes over dietary laws and marriage through religious arbitration, while others would go even further in stigmatizing Islamic life: a bill recently passed by the Tennessee General Assembly equates Shariah with a set of rules that promote “the destruction of the national existence of the United States.”

Supporters of these bills contend that such measures are needed to protect the country against homegrown terrorism and safeguard its Judeo-Christian values. The Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has said that “Shariah is a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and in the world as we know it.”

This is exactly wrong. The crusade against Shariah undermines American democracy, ignores our country’s successful history of religious tolerance and assimilation, and creates a dangerous divide between America and its fastest-growing religious minority.

Algerian man denied French nationality because of sexism

An Algerian man was denied French citizenship because “his idea of sexual equality is not that of the republic”, according to a high-ranking official quoted by French radio station Europe 1.

The man, who has not been identified, is married to a Frenchwoman, but does not allow her to leave the family home freely, it was claimed. The French constitution states that the government can refuse nationality or strip nationality for a “lack of integration”.

A spokesman for the interior minister, Claude Guéant, told the Guardian that the man had failed to accept the French way of life. “His behaviour showed a lack of assimilation into the French community; it was incompatible with the values of the French republic, notably in respect to the values of the equality of men and women.”

 

The decision came after far-right leader Marine Le Pen wrote to French MPs asking them to support an end to dual nationality, claiming it “undermines republican values.” President Nicolas Sarkozy is reportedly “very favourable” to ending dual nationality.

 

COMPARING IMMIGRANT ASSIMILATION IN NORTH AMERICA AND EUROPE

Jacob L. Vigdor, Adjunct Fellow, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research

Executive Summary:

This is the third in a series of Center for State and Local Leadership reports on the state of immigrant assimilation—the degree of similarity between the native- and foreign-born populations—in the United States. This report provides new information on the characteristics of newly arrived immigrants and the pace of their integration into society, as measured by a series of summary indices through 2009. It also introduces a series of comparisons among countries, using data from the United States and ten other countries drawn from the period 1999-2001. Although these international data are slightly dated, they are the most recent comparative data available, and few major changes are likely to have taken place since. The study’s focus is the comparative progress individual ethnic groups, particularly immigrants from nations with predominantly Muslim populations, have made in the destination countries where they have chosen to reside.

The study of assimilation in recent years has led to a number of key findings, particularly regarding the impact of the recession of December 2007-June 2009.

  • The recession affected immigrants more strongly than natives. Some responded to economic difficulty by leaving the country where they had settled, while others almost certainly decided not to leave their native land in the first place.
  • These discouraged immigrants tended to be among the least assimilated. Thus, although immigrants’ economic progress has stalled, the departure of less assimilated migrants has produced statistical gains in average levels of cultural and civic assimilation.

Patterns unrelated to the economic cycle appear in the analysis of assimilation trajectories over the past decade.

  • Most of the United States’ major immigrant groups were more assimilated in 2009 than they were in 2000.
  • Some groups progressed more than others. Immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador experienced at most little improvement, while progress for those from Asia and more-developed nations was unmistakable.
  • Assimilation improved rapidly in the nation’s two most common destination cities—Los Angeles and New York—while showing at most slow progress in Chicago, Houston, and Dallas-Fort Worth, which are also recipients of large numbers of immigrants.

Tracking the progress of immigrant cohorts over periods of up to three decades reveals other important trends:

  • Upon arrival, the most recent immigrants are significantly more assimilated along cultural and civic lines than their counterparts of a decade ago.
  • The halt in economic progress has affected recent and long-term immigrants alike.
  • Recent immigrants with strong cultural differences from the mainstream are the ones most likely to have responded to the recession by leaving the country.

International comparisons make use of data on rates of assimilation of immigrants to the following countries: Austria, Canada, France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Comparison of nine of these countries (excluding the Netherlands and the U.K., which lack critical data elements) in an international version of the assimilation index reveals a number of important findings:

  • On the whole, immigrants in the United States are more assimilated than those in most European countries, except Portugal, where a large proportion of immigrants originated in former Portuguese-speaking colonies.
  • Immigrants from Canada rank first in terms of overall assimilation, largely as a consequence of their high rate of naturalization.
  • Easing the path to naturalization does not guarantee full integration into society. Immigrants in the Netherlands naturalize much more often than those in the United States but have significantly lower employment rates.

Breaking assimilation down still further, by both origin and destination, shows the United States to be ahead of most of Europe but behind Canada in a wide variety of categories.

 

  • Muslim immigrants, identified by data on religion in some nations and by country of birth in others, are most integrated in Canada, followed closely by the United States.
  • Muslim immigrants in Italy and Switzerland are much less assimilated than Mexican and Central American immigrants are in the United States. Muslim immigrants’ standing in Spain is roughly equal to the standing of Mexicans and Central Americans in the United States.
  • The United States’ ranking behind Canada but ahead of European nations also holds for immigrants from China and Southeast Asia. Assimilation in the United States is ahead of all but one European country for immigrants from India and Eastern Europe.
  • Two facets of Canadian immigration policy may help explain the rapid integration of foreigners into Canadian society. First, the path to citizenship in Canada is short and easily traveled. Foreigners face a three-year residency requirement (it is five for legal permanent residents in the United States and as many as twelve in some European countries), and the nation has taken a liberal stance toward dual citizenship since 1977. Second, Canadian immigration policy places a distinct emphasis on attracting skilled migrants. Thirty percent of foreign-born adults in Canada have college degrees, while the rate is 23 percent in the United States and 10 percent in Spain and Italy. Educational attainment is not a factor in the international version of the assimilation index, but the link between immigrants’ level of education and their degree of assimilation is strong.
  • While these comparisons certainly raise the question of whether this country should start moving toward a more Canadian form of immigration policy, it is clear that the United States, compared to the other countries studied, is doing a good job of absorbing newcomers. Immigration is a global phenomenon, provoked largely by persistent gaps in living standards between rich and poor countries and facilitated by improvements in transportation and communication. The strains felt in European nations, which report their own problems with illegal immigration (Italy and Spain) and cultural integration (Switzerland and France), appear upon close inspection to be more severe than those the United States has experienced.

 

French CFCM critiques French national debate on identity

Mohammed Moussaoui, president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), has critiqued the recent French national identity debate and its “political instrumentalization of the Muslim faith”. Moussaoui suggests that greater investigation into the “social and political roots” of assimilation in France would be more appropriate.

France and Germany less tolerant of Muslims than Britain

According to new research, Muslim youths find it far easier to assimilate in Britain than France or Germany. The study finds that Muslim youths “feel much more at ease in Britain than do their counterparts in the other mentioned countries.” The study stopped short of blaming overt racism in France and Germany, instead declaring that, “perceptions of discrimination were lowest in Britain and highest in Germany.” The research was conducted by Lancaster University and is to be published in book form next month. The work is based on a survey of more than 2,500 young people between the ages of 16 and 25 in the three countries. In Britain, the youths mostly came from families originating from the Indian subcontinent. In France, youths of migrant parents from Morocco and Algeria were surveyed and, in Germany, the Muslims came from Turkey and the former Yugoslavia.

“Britain’s model of multiculturalism is proving far more effective for the incorporation of ethnic minority groups than the French ‘assimilation’ or German ‘ethnic nationalist’ ones,” said Professor Roger Penn, co-author of
the report in The National, a digital newspaper published by Abu Dhabi Media Company. Although the bulk of Muslim youths in Britain expressed little or no interest in politics, their counterparts from North Africa in France were far more politically active, along with Turkish youths in Germany. During the riots of 2005 in France, media largely focused on Muslim youth as perpetrating the civil unrest in that country. Rukaiya Jeraj, the head of
advocacy at the Muslim Youth Helpline in Britain, said the report highlighted the fact that “young British Muslims are connected and assimilated in the UK thanks to our country’s multi-cultural approach.”
Larry Clifton reports.

Spiegel Interview with Author Leon De Winter: ‘The Europeans Are Chasing Illusions’

Dutch author Leon de Winter talks with SPIEGEL about his new novel, which is set in 2024, the threats mounting against Israel and the assimilation of Muslims in Europe. SPIEGEL: In your home country, the Netherlands, there is a widespread fear of Islamization. You have written a great deal on this topic yourself, and some of this sounds rather apocalyptic. Does this still reflect your view of the world? De Winter: Not during the day. Only when I wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning and can’t fall asleep again. That’s when I really start to worry about everything — about my taxes, my children, my dog and my cats. And, of course, about the state of our society and what will happen to it. We are living in exciting times. And you know the Chinese curse: “May you live in exciting times!” Not since the end of World War II have things been as exciting as they are today. We are experiencing a new phenomenon: the mass immigration of Muslims to countries where the “infidels” live. SPIEGEL: What do you expect the consequences of this will be? De Winter: There are signs that a modern Islam is emerging. An increasing number of young, liberal Muslims are trying to practice their own form of religion because they have been inspired by the idea of freedom. But, of course, radical Islam remains a problem. It has a very strong appeal for frustrated young men with violent tendencies who at some point in time discover that the world is full of injustice and want to do something about it. It’s a bit like an adventure: the dramatic farewell videos, the last message to the world and then — the explosion. On top of that, there is the promise of sex after death, something many of them can only dream of. I can understand how young men become fanatics. But I also see something entirely different: how it is primarily young Muslim women here in Holland who become integrated into society; how they get an education and move forward because they have their freedom. And they seize this opportunity. SPIEGEL: So it’s only a matter of time before the problem solves itself? De Winter: We don’t know how long it will take and how many victims it will claim. It could take 40 or 50 years before integration has really occurred. Everything is in a state of flux, and nobody can say where the journey will take us.