The NY Times has an article on the immigration debate in France titled, In French Bid, Immigrant’s Son Battles Reputation as Anti-Immigrant. In it, at least they give Sarko credit:
The possible next president of France is the son of an immigrant with a very un-French name who has done as much, if not more, than any other French official to improve the status of minorities.
He knows the pain of being an outsider and even advocates American-style affirmative action, heresy for many people in officially colorblind, egalitarian France.
The problem is that no matter how much France wants to officially paint itself colorblind and egalitarian, it is not. Everything in France is determined by who you know, what school you attend, and what colleges you graduate from. Nobody knows that better than Sarko:
Mr. Sarkozy himself has struggled as an outsider, describing himself as a “little Frenchman of mixed blood” who rose to the top of French politics without going through the normal channels of the elite Ecole Nationale d’Administration as Ms. Royal did.
At the same time, France has a large minority of unintegrated aliens who have lived there for generations. Whether the French assumed that the immigrants would “naturally” become French out of their own initiative, or didn’t care, the fact is that these unintegrated long-term residents, many of which are illegal aliens, have become a huge problem. While the NYT first referred to these individuals as “youths”, the customary euphemism, later on in the article (13th paragraph) it does mention that the “youths” are mostly Muslim.
Sarko has favored aggressive action to integrate them into French society,
He encouraged the creation of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, which gave Islam a voice in France. He appointed the first prefect in France who is both foreign-born and Muslim. He has even argued for relaxing rules that restrict government support for building mosques.
And he supports affirmative action, which the Socialists steadfastly oppose.
In addition, Sarko has suggested that the illegal aliens be granted the right to vote in local elections. But there’s one thing: he wants integration, not accommodation:
While Mr. Sarkozy has moderated his language and struck a more conciliatory tone in the presidential campaign, he did not help matters by proposing last year that France have a ministry of immigration and national identity to ensure that new citizens adhered to France’s secular values.
To many people in the suburbs, the idea seemed to be a way to suppress cultural differences in favor of a traditional French way of life.
Those cultural differences have become a huge rift in the social fabric. That is always the cast when a section of the residents of a country are not integrated. Many other European countries are in the same quandary.
And that brings us to the crux of any discussion regarding immigration: integration.
In France, as elsewhere, opportunists will use the rifts for their own perfidious purposes: witness Segolene Royal’s statement that
if he [Sarkozy] is elected, “democracy will be threatened,” The Associated Press reported. She said she felt a “responsibility to raise the alert about the risks of this candidacy and the violence and brutality that will be set off in the country.”
Political opportunism can be found anywhere in the world. Political opportunism will not get anyone integrated into anything other than discord and strife.
I have discussed immigration on Blog Talk Radio with my guests Pieter Dorsman and Siggy, and with Captain Ed; and also privately with my neighbor TigerHawk. We all have independently arrived at the same conclusion: integration is the issue.
Integration can be even more problematic when there’s a religious aspect: As Pieter said in his blog after our conversation,
It is important to understand that failed Muslim integration to a large extent has resulted from the long held belief that allowing different religious pillars to exist in The Netherlands would contribute to a solution like it had in the past for the Catholic-Protestant divide on which the nation was built. The problem is that a template for neutralizing religious tensions between a culturally and economically largely homogenous group has limited use to integrate a group that both ethnically and economically occupies a different and separate world. Add to that the fact that Catholic and Protestant structures have largely become defunct in one of Europe’s most secular nations and you can picture the divergent tracks in Dutch society.
Even among Catholics and Protestants, one of the things I discussed with Captain Ed is that many churches are not facilitating integration because they hold foreign-language services. The newcomers are made to remain aliens.
Important as it is, the religious aspect is only one part of the problem. Both in Europe and in the USA we now have a new kind of immigrant – those who, to use Siggy’s words,
“they don’t say I want to participate, they don’t say I want to contribute, they say, I want”.
The task of any society is to teach its citizenry what it means to be a citizen of that society. A large part of being a citizen of any society is knowing that participating and contributing is at least as important as demanding.
We are doomed to relive France’s current problems in America if we don’t make a concerted effort to integrate and assimilate immigrants.
In America’s case, the first place to start is with language.
As I have mentioned before, children of immigrants need to learn English in order to fully master American life. For them not to master English means a handicapped life.
But acculturation is not simply being bilingual:
Prior generations of immigrants, once they arrived in the USA were taught, by the public schools and by other civic organizations, traditional American values; more specifically, middle-class, Protestant values, within a Judeo-Christian tradition. People learned to read English by reading the King James Bible. The Protestant work ethic was promoted through Horatio Alger stories, and the value of delayed gratification was spoken of. School curricula stressed discipline and the “three R’s”, and included famous sermons, such as Governor John Winthrop’s A Model of Christian Charity. People were taught and encouraged to serve their communities through volunteering, a most American trait. In short, immigrants were directed towards what it meant to live in an American culture; no one assumed that simply knowing the language meant one was acculturated.
In today’s PC environment, that has nearly disappeared from the curricula.
Today is Cinco de Mayo, a minor holiday in Mexico that is given a lot of publicity in the USA.
Here in Princeton the Princeton Shopping Center had a live salsa band (I didn’t ask the musicians where they were from, but Mexican salsa is something you eat, Caribbean salsa is something you dance to), pony rides for the kids and hot dogs for all. In all, a pretty well integrated atmosphere for a festive day in truly glorious Spring weather. Cinco de Mayo’s as good a name as May Madness, as far as I’m concerned, while May 5th would be even better.
By all means, have a Cinco de Mayo party, celebrate St Patricks, Columbus Day and every other holiday. I’m certainly in favor of celebrating and getting as much joy out of life as we can.
But let’s not have a lesson unlearned: what the French are dealing with now can happen here.
Integration is the key.
More on the French elections tomorrow.
Update, Sunday 6 May Pieter Dorsman has an excellent article about Holland. I’ll post more on it later this week.