Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Confusing "French" with "French"

Whenever the title of an article in the Weekly Standard has accent marks in it, a lightbulb goes off in my francophilic Zionistic mind. Olivier Guitta writes on "the unreported race riot in France." In a sick way I feel vindicated as a francophilic Zionist reading this: "At a press conference announcing the release of the statement on March 25, Finkielkraut denounced Francophobia and Judeophobia." American conservatives frequently associate being pro-French with being anti-Jewish and vice versa, so it's interesting to see that things are not always so simple. Less uplifting, however, is that there are, well, race riots in France. While this blog is the last place you'll usually find sympathy for far-left violence--and I'm not exactly sympathetic--it's worth taking a look at why this is happening in France, of all places, where assimilation should, by all accounts, be thriving. Guitta clues us in, though: "Chirac personally blundered last July 14, when, in the course of his traditional Bastille Day press interview, he distinguished between 'our Jewish and Muslim compatriots' and 'just plain French.'" While America does not (and Reihan would disagree with me here) have "just plain Americans," countries like France do contain a certain number of people whose ethnicity is one and the same as their nationality--French. Claiming otherwise would be futile. What's important for France's well-being is that the two things labelled as "French" do not become confused in people's minds. The whole point of the veiling law and laicite in general is to create a France which consists of a firmly defined and inclusive national sphere. The idea is, fine, veiling at school isn't the French way, but whatever you had going on under that veil is 100% French. Ideally, that's how things would work. But veiled or not, yarmulked or not, France is still confusing "French" with "French," and things there won't improve until that changes.


john_m_burt said...

This is a difficult concept for people who have experienced it in a coutry like France or Germany. For an American, it may be nearly impossible.

Nick said...

no, I think you're missing a really important distinction.

I mean, the pact (for better or for worse) that was made with the Jews and the Muslims for a long time was that they would be tolerated as long as they were French first and Jewish second. this was largely for fear that Jews in France and England would be more loyal to their own interests and not necessarily those of their host country.

that policy can be French first in schools without your veil, and Muslim second. that's an extremely important construction in French identity.

so though I completely agree that "French" is also an ethnic category, and that there is a resulting crisis of nationalism as europe enters the 21st century, I think what Chirac sparked was a result of his potential challenge to that theory--that one would no longer need to be French first and Jewish or Muslim second.

say what you will, the French are smart enough to recognize that when it comes down to it, no man can serve two masters. this is the country that had a Cardinal teach it how to abandon religion as the guiding force in international politics...