Why France still insists on cultural assimilation Head scarves By William Pfaff (TMSI/IHT) Saturday, January 17, 2004 The proposed ban on Islamic head scarves in French state schools has provoked considerable foreign comment, much of it hostile. In some Islamic countries it has been taken as an attack on the Islamic religion, which it is not. It is a defense of the impartiality of the state with regard to religion, and of the cultural authority and autonomy of secular education in France. The usual European or American criticism is that the French are rejecting multicultural society, held to be modern and liberating. Multiculturalism seems generous, but in practice has produced mixed results for both society and immigrants. It is still new, its eventual consequences on a national society relatively untried. A usually neglected point is that it does not demonstrate self-confidence in the host society. It comes out of a period of deep self-doubt in American political society and American culture, exported to other countries.(...) The universal assumption of Americans had always been that immigrants came to the United States to become (or see their children become) culturally assimilated Americans. Americans took for granted that assimilation was essential to national unity.(...) The United States no longer demands undivided loyalties or cultural assimilation. This represents an historic change in American national belief. Britain and much of Atlantic Europe saw in multiculturalism a response to their own immigration problems with culturally distinct minorities. Multiculturalism meant that immigrants did not need to be integrated. They were assumed to be happier living in their own linguistic and cultural communities.(...) The British cling to the multicultural principle, doing their best to make it work, with real if still inconclusive success. Germany - which traditionally has held nationality conveyed by birth, and has one of the lowest rates of natural reproduction in the world - now confronts a crisis provoked by its pretense, during the last half century, that its residents of foreign origin were "guest workers' who planned to go home. (They are 9 percent of total population, the highest percentage in Europe.) The French position has always been that nationality is indifferent to race or origin, but is cultural and can be acquired. It has been the European country most open to immigration, but the most insistent on assimilation. The national school system has been a machine for assimilating Corsicans, Bretons, Basques, patois-speakers from other regions, and then East European Jews, Poles, Spaniards, Italians, Portuguese, Vietnamese and sub-Saharan Africans. However, the machine has not worked in the same way for Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian Muslims, which is the reason there is a head scarf controversy.(....) Integration nonetheless remains the model and the goal. The advantage the French have is that they still believe in themselves and the power of their culture. Multiculturalism is the recourse of those who no longer possess that confidence.
Mercoledì, 28. Gennaio 2004