Here is how a writer for The Irish Times wishes to describe the growing, now unstoppable, recognition in France, as elsewhere in Europe, that — to quote a lapidary formulaÂ from a favorite writer — “the large-scale presence of Muslims in the countries of Western Europe has created a situation, both for the non-Muslim indigenes and for non-Muslim immigrants, that is far more unpleasant, expensive, and physically dangerous than would be the case without that presence.” Is there anyone of sense in Europe who would not turn back the clock, if he could, knowing what he knows now, so as never to have allowed that Muslim immigration in the first place?
But look how the reporter ignores that, even as he mentions examples of French — and British — unease. Instead, he ludicrously tells us that the French are suffering an “identity crisis.” Oh no they’re not.
Here’sÂ thatÂ mixture of truth and tendentious blague.
French officials discreetly applauded the British prime minister David Cameron’s proposals this week to restrict immigration from poor EU countries.
Camoron is barking up the wrong tree. Immigration from poor EU countries might be unpleasant.
Immigration is becoming the thorniest issue in French politics and will figure prominently in next year’s municipal and European elections. Socialists and the conservative UMP are toughening their policies, in the hope of blunting the appeal of the anti-immigrant, far-right National Front.
The UMP wants to abolish the right to citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants born inÂ France, and wants to end free medical care for illegals. Interior minister Manuel Valls has promised to re-examine the right to asylum.
Immigration and national identity are often cited as contributing to France’s chronic state of moroseness. But when the former presidentÂ Nicolas SarkozyÂ established a “ministry of immigration and national identity,” the implication that immigrants threatened French identity prompted an outcry.
The theme hasn’t died though. Philosopher Alain Finkelkraut’sÂ Unhappy Identity, one of the most talked about books this autumn, claims the French no longer feel at home in their own country. “When the cybercafe is called ‘Bled.com’ [bled is Arab slang for the countryside] and the butcher’s shop and the fast-food are halal,” Finkelkraut writes, “these sedentary [French people] experience exile without having moved. Everything has changed around them.”
At Marine Le Pen’s National Front rallies, crowds chant “On est chez nous!” (We’re at home.) There’s unspoken resentment that Arabs and Africans who drove France from her colonies are now “invading” and adulterating the French way of life, in a sort of reverse colonisation. The French no longer refer to “travailleurs immigrÃ©s” but to immigrants, full stop; Muslim immigrants are apparently no longer seen as workers.
The French long believed their secular, republican education system would transform the children of Muslim immigrants into loyal citizens. Ghettoised in the banlieues, rejected by potential employers, Arab and African Muslims are instead re-islamicising, as shown by the widespread presence of headscarves and djellaba robes.
Immigrants from easternÂ EuropeÂ are seen mainly as threats to French jobs and sources of crime. “These foreigners who are pillaging France; the new barbarians” was the cover story of this week’sÂ Valeurs Actuelles, a right-wing magazine.
EU rules exempt the employers of non-French Europeans from paying high French social charges on their wages. As a result, 300,000 Poles now work in French agriculture, construction and transport. The Hollande administration calls it “social dumping,” and seeks a revision of the rules at the December 9-10 EU Council.
There are only 20,000 Roma in France, but they are highly visible in shanty-towns around Paris, Lille and Lyon. Police dismantled a camp of 800 Roma at Saint-Ouen, Paris, on Wednesday last, and another near the Var river in Nice on the same day.
Last month, President FranÃ§ois Hollande offered to letÂ Leonarda DibraniÂ (15) return to France without her Roma family, who had been expelled to Kosovo. Dibrani insulted Hollande on live television. The French public were shocked to see their president humiliated by an insolent schoolgirl.
Francis Brochet, who covers social policy for the eastern French newspaper consortium EBRA, says France’s obsession with immigration is symptomatic of a broader identity crisis. “France’s problem is the same as Britain’s,” Brochet says. “They’ve become second-rank countries who no longer know what purpose they serve. They doubt their power and influence. It’s not by chance that France and Britain led the intervention in Libya.”
Brochet says Hollande needs to tell the French they will never again be a superpower. Risky for such an unpopular president. As Gen Charles de Gaulle said in London during the second World War, France “has acquired over 1,500 years the habit of being a great power and insists that everyone, first of all its friends, not forget this.”
In the 1970s, President ValÃ©ry Giscard d’Estaing was pilloried for referring to France as a “medium power”. FranÃ§ois Mitterrand made amends, vaunting France’s status as “the world’s third military power”. In the midst of France’s present identity crisis, military might is again a consolation.
“France has and will continue to maintain the first army of Europe,” defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian toldÂ Le FigaroÂ this week.