[excerpts from a December 14, 2009 LA Times story by Devorah Lauter]
As the French debate their identity, some recoil
One in a series of public discussions erupts in charges of xenophobia and a lack of national pride.
Immigration Minister Eric Besson, left, delivers a speech last week during a debate on France's national identity in Paris. Ordinary citizens have been invited to discuss what it means to be French. (Lionel Bonaventure / AFP/Getty Images / December 9, 2009)
Reporting from Saint-Quentin-En-Yvelines, France -
It was one of a series of government-run public debates aimed at defining the values that constitute French national identity.
Host Anne Boquet, the local police chief, expressed her hope that the dialogue would "remind people of their Republican values and to respect authority."
"The debates can introduce that respect," she said, and help "define the face of France we like today."
The 3-month-long national debate series, spearheaded by conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy and his minister of immigration [Eric Besson], has been the subject of heated controversy since a late November vote in Switzerland to ban the construction of minarets on mosques.
Sarkozy recognized that view in an editorial in Wednesday's Le Monde: "Instead of condemning . . . the Swiss people, let's try to understand what they wanted to express, and what so many people in Europe feel, including the French. . . . Europeans are welcoming and tolerant, it's in their nature and in their culture. But they don't want the nature of their way of life, their mode of thinking and social makeup to be distorted."
Sarkozy has defended the debate series as a means for the French to let out suppressed feelings about their national identity. "It's by becoming deaf to the cries of the people, indifferent to their difficulties, their feelings, aspirations, that we nourish populism," he wrote. "Nothing would be worse than denial" that the French and Europeans "feel that they are losing their identity."
Besson sought to defend the discussions during a National Assembly debate last week, declaring that "the Republic must, in particular, be interested in the link between immigration and integration and between immigration and national identity."
He was booed and shouted down by left-leaning deputies.
In his editorial defending the need for the debates, Sarkozy argued that France's national identity relies on the "successful assimilation" of Muslims, through their "discreet" demonstration of their religion.
Jerome Fourquet, assistant director for the French Ifop polling service, said that before the Swiss vote, "the visibility of Islam, whether it was the burka on the streets or the minarets, already posed a problem to the French." The Nov. 29 vote, he said, has "resurfaced" questions about Islam's place in France.
The French "wonder" whether children of immigrants who show disrespect by booing their national anthem, for instance, in soccer matches between France and former North African colonies, "are really French," said Fourquet.
[excerpts from a related LA Times story by Devorah Lauter on January 27, 2010]
In France, panel recommends a burka ban in public institutions
The full-body garments are a security issue in places like banks and subways where people need to be identifiable, the parliamentary committee says.
Activists in Paris call for liberty for Muslim women who wear the burka. (Yoan Valat / European Pressphoto Agency / January 26, 2010)
Reporting from Paris - Muslim women should not be allowed to wear burkas in public institutions, including banks, post offices, schools and even on public transportation, a report by a parliamentary committee said Tuesday.
Yet the report on how to stop Muslims from wearing the full-body garment in France fell short of gathering a consensus on key questions such as whether to completely ban the burka from French streets.
How to "stop this practice is not the most simple thing to define," the report says.
As a result, the committee reduced its recommendation to a nonbinding resolution condemning the burka as "contrary to the values of the Republic." It also called for educational programs to reduce fundamentalism.
President Nicolas Sarkozy said in June that the burka was "not welcome" in France, fueling a media frenzy.
Within weeks, the controversy "took to the French like mayonnaise," De Bechillon said. "You mix the oil and the yolk, and at one precise moment they all congeal together. . . . It's kind of the same story with the burka. It permitted a lot of debate on identity and . . . on the fear of Islam."
The devastating effect of non-assimilating immigrants on national culture---and economy---has gotten so bad in Denmark that the Danish government is now offering sizeable amounts of money to certain groups of immigrants if they will leave the country and return to their native homeland.