France And The Multiculturalism Paradox
PARIS — Although the time for emotion and indignation about the recent terrorism in France is barely over, the moment for deeper reflection has arrived. What needs serious consideration, without prejudice or exaggeration, is the French way of dealing with cultural pluralism. The link between this subject and recent events is plain to see.
On the one hand, our so-called "republican" model for living together, which until recently some celebrated as superior to British and Dutch multiculturalism, didn't prevent terrorist violence from hitting us head on in 2015, as in 2013.
On the other hand, nothing forbids us from asking whether the manner in which we live together in this country is somehow defective, whether our culture is at all culpable for some people's commitment to blowing it up, in every sense of the term.
The question today is not to determine whether France has moved too far toward the model of multiculturalism but rather that there is no political leadership promoting a temperate multiculturalism.
A new credo?
No individual right or freedom to defend one's identity is recognized for the French citizen the way it is for other fundamental rights like freedom of opinion, belief or expression. France remains a country that took responsibility for placing, with a single language, a mark of cultural identity on an equal footing with the major principles of the Republic, which are government by the people for the people and the motto "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité."
According to French law, no form of multiculturalism exists in our country, although the multicultural character of the population is one of the accepted facts of our society. Even beyond the terrorism question, the conflict takes the form of a rapid increase in calls for justice by specific populations and communities demanding the rights that come with being diverse. Conflict is then bound to arise as an ideology seizes on the disorientation of a part of the French population to find among them more and more citizens with religious and cultural references that differ from their own.
It is of course out of the question for our society and those worthy of governing it to give in to the purely provocative mirage of mass expulsion, nor any program of forced assimilation. In either case, we would find ourselves confronted with both the resistance of reality and a dangerous political regime required to spearhead the battle.
Instead, we can hope that the cultural plurality inscribed at the heart of our existence will give rise, both in terms of ideas and policy, the creation of new rights and answers worthy of the questions they raise.
A whole other program is also conceivable, and would be politically practicable as soon as one party seized on it. In favor of new individual rights for all citizens regardless of culture or religion would be real possibilities to choose, know and respect the diversity of the human condition. We could imagine that part of the political right coalesces around a policy that continues to advocate more for assimilation, while part of the political left would defend the principle of multiculturalism tempered by a concern for its pitfalls.
Now is not the time for another abstract republican credo. Instead, we must hear the fading signals of those who have expressly told us they cannot continue to denounce violence if it comes at the price of consenting to a different form of violence: the erasing or negation of what makes them different.