Monday, June 14, 2010

Meanwhile, in France...

France, my country of origin, is in a pickle.

There are three to five million Muslims in France, including one million who are French citizens. There have been Muslims in France since the beginning of the 20th century, but it was only in 1967 that their number topped one million.

France on January 1, 1994 had 58 million residents. The French population has been increasing by about 400,000 annually, due to 300,000 more births than deaths, and 100,000 immigrants. Half of all French immigrants, and 40 percent of the asylum seekers, are from Africa.

In the past, France had an assimilationist attitude toward immigration--immigrants were expected to learn French and to conform to French values in public. Muslims have begun to challenge assimilation just as France, like other industrial countries, is debating the best way to integrate minority immigrants.

In the fall of 1994, the French government officially banned girls who wear "ostentatious" headscarves from attending public schools. Some Islamic associations immediately attacked the headscarf ban as a symbol of French intolerance for minorities. In more recent times, there has been much talk about women wearing burkas and a few days ago, in Nantes, 220 miles west of Paris, the issue came to a head. This port, the sixth largest city in the country is home to some 750,000. Police authorities there issued a traffic ticket to one Sandrine Moulere, a native-born French woman. Ms. Moulere was driving her car while wearing a full-face Islamic veil and the police claim this impaired her vision. She, in turn, said she could navigate through traffic as well as any motorcyclist wearing a helmet. So far, a fairly simple matter.

But, it turns out, Ms. Moulere, born Christian, converted to Islam some time ago. She is the common-law wife of an Algerian native, Lies Hebbadj. Hebbadj obtained a French passport through his marriage to another French woman. He now lives in a multi-house compound with three other women and 15 children. French authorities claim this is polygamy and that Hebbadj is a welfare cheat who has been collecting money through his female companions. Hedbbadj says that he is married to only one woman but has three mistresses. Having mistresses, he claims quite rightly, is not illegal in France.

Like I said, it’s a pickle.

The issue of course has little to do with driving skills. It touches on assimilation or the lack thereof, on unemployment, on minorities seen as siphoning funds from the system. Here is fear of change—felt by both the native-born and the immigrants—consternation, distrust, chauvinism, the immovable object meeting the irresistible force.

Personally, I’m with the French. My views, mentioned many, many times, is that it is the job of the newcomer to adapt to his/her new country. That means learning the language, accepting the mores, taking part in the culture rather than defying it, and becoming a worker among workers. Save the national dress or religion-defining attire for special occasions. Don’t do animal sacrifices in view of the neighbors, and work with the system rather than take advantage of it. We’ll all be happier then.

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