France: Are immigrants a threat to French identity?
Nicolas Sarkozy is race baiting, said Louis Hausalter in Marianne. The former president is eager to be the presidential nominee of the centerright Republican Party in next year’s election. But when talking about Muslim immigrants, he sounds more like a candidate from the far-right National Front. “If you want to become French, you speak French, you live like the French, and you don’t try to change a way of life that has been ours for so many years,” Sarkozy said last week. “Once you are French, your ancestors are the Gauls.” He noted that his father was a Hungarian immigrant and his mother part Greek, but that they did not teach him the history or language of either of those countries. Of course, we all know that the phrase “our ancestors, the Gauls” is a dog whistle. It was used in patriotic propaganda in the 1920s and ’30s and is used now by the far right as part of an agenda that is “racist and hostile to immigration.”
Sarkozy’s contention is both “ridiculous and appalling,” said Laurent Joffrin in Libération. It’s silly because historically, the ancient Gauls are no more our ancestors than the Romans, Visigoths, Franks, Vikings, Jews, Arabs, Spaniards, Armenians, and others who have traveled through and settled our lands. It’s dangerous because it seeks to force immigrants to renounce their culture of origin. That was never required of any minority in France before—“not the Catalans or Corsicans or the Bretons, not the Chinese or Alsatians”—except French Muslims. They and they alone are being targeted as somehow un-French.
You know what is typically French? Racism, said Gérard Noiriel in Le Monde. This country went through a similar period of demonizing immigrants in the 1930s. In 1932, French President Paul Doumer was assassinated by a Russian refugee; two years later, the foreign minister was killed by a Bulgarian terrorist. French citizens felt a “growing sense of insecurity, a feeling manipulated by journalists and politicians.” Xenophobic laws followed: New naturalized citizens were banned from careers in medicine and the law for up to 10 years, and couldn’t vote for five years. France became obsessed with the supposed threat to French identity from black colonial subjects and from French Jews. It was a short hop from there to the Vichy Regime of World War II and collaboration with the Nazis.
But Sarkozy is right about the need for a national identity, said Dimitri Casali in Le Figaro. The French have become “champions at self-flagellation.” Left-leaning elites are teaching our children “that the French were all horrible slave traders in the 18th century, infamous colonizers in the 19th century, and collaborators in the 20th century.” We need “to create a grand national story, inclusive and balanced,” to teach all our citizens what is great about France. It need not be based on bloodlines, but it should be based in pride.